Vice President Mike Pence leaving an NFL game early on Sunday was a costly political “stunt,” according to some Democratic lawmakers.
Several members of Congress condemned the White House for using taxpayer dollars to fund Pence’s attempt to “make a point” about NFL protests during a short visit to his home state of Indiana.
Pence flew from Las Vegas, where he was attending a memorial for victims of last week’s mass shooting, to Indiana so he could attend Sunday’s game between the Indianapolis Colts and the San Francisco 49ers. He left the stadium abruptly after more than 20 players from the 49ers knelt during the national anthem in protest of police brutality.
“I left today’s Colts game because @POTUS and I will not dignify any event that disrespects our soldiers, our Flag, or our National Anthem,” Pence tweeted after his departure, minutes before President Donald Trump tweeted that he had instructed the veep to leave the game if players knelt.
Pence then flew to Los Angeles for a fundraising event.
Eric Reid, a player for the 49ers, called the move a “PR stunt,” claiming the White House probably knew Pence would leave early given the number of team members who usually take a knee during the national anthem.
Trump addressed the incident again Monday, tweeting that Pence’s travel had been “long planned” and that his exit drew “great praise.”
Pence protesting NFL protests may have revved up Trump’s conservative base ― but at what cost to American taxpayers?
Air travel alone likely racked up a hefty bill. Air Force 2, a modified Boeing 757, costs about $16,000 per hour to operate, according to the Air Force’s schedule for charging other governmental units for using its planes in the 2018 budget year.
Pence’s flight from Las Vegas to Indianapolis took nearly three hours on Saturday, and his flight to Los Angeles on Sunday took roughly 3.5 hours. About 6.5 hours of Air Force 2 use could have cost as much as $104,000.
Some people have suggested Pence should have flown directly to Los Angeles, since he likely assumed he would be leaving the game before kickoff. The Republican National Committee would reimburse some of Pence’s airfare costs to LA since he was attending a “political event” there, CNN reported. Still, the hour-long flight from Las Vegas to LA should have cost just $16,000, which means taxpayers may have spent an additional $88,000 to cover Pence’s quick visit to Indianapolis.
The Air Force did not immediately return HuffPost’s requests for comment.
Additional costs incurred during the trip include Pence’s motorcade, a bolstered local police presence and hotel rooms in Indianapolis for Pence’s family and his security detail.
An aide for the vice president defended Pence’s visit to Indiana in a statement to CNN on Monday. The aide appeared to imply that the trip actually saved taxpayers’ money.
“The Vice President was not going to miss the Las Vegas memorial prayer walk on Saturday, which he was honored to attend on behalf of President Trump,” he said. “If the Vice President did not go to Indiana for the Colts game, he would have flown back to DC for the evening — which means flying directly over Indiana. Instead, he made a shorter trip to Indiana for a game that was on his schedule for several weeks.”
Backlash over Pence’s trip to Indianapolis comes less than two weeks after Tom Price resigned as secretary of human health and services following reports that he cost taxpayers over $1 million in unnecessary chartered and military flights. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and Energy Secretary Rick Perry have also come under fire recently over their use of chartered flights.
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a not-for-profit ethics watchdog, tweeted its frustration over the wasteful spending on Saturday.
Clarification: An earlier version of this story cited a CNN story that reported Air Force 2 hourly rates of $30,000 per hour. HuffPost has since learned the cost is about $16,000 per hour, according to a Defense Department report.