Vice President Mike Pence walked out of an Indianapolis Colts game over the weekend after some of the San Francisco 49ers took a knee, saying “I don’t think it’s too much to ask NFL players to respect the Flag and our National Anthem.”
But on Monday, critics were asking the White House to detail just how much Pence’s “political stunt” cost taxpayers, with some dubbing the vice president a “paid protester.”
“They bussed this guy in from out of state & spent a quarter million dollars on his paid protest,” tweeted William LeGate, a tech entrepreneur and Trump critic. “sad.”
“CAN WE JUST MAKE IT THROUGH A WEEKEND WITHOUT THIS ADMINISTRATION ABUSING TAXPAYER DOLLARS WITH JET TRAVEL!?” Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington tweeted.
The watchdog organization filed a Freedom of Information request for records “reflecting the use of government funds to provide security and any other services to Vice President Mike pence for his travel on Sunday, October 8, 2017, which included a flight from Las Vegas to Indianapolis to attend an NFL football game and then a flight to Los Angeles for a political fundraiser.”
“Vice President Pence’s trip to Indianapolis to attend an NFL football game has been widely criticized as a political stunt undertaken at the urging of President Donald Trump and likely to increase political giving at the fundraising event the Vice President attended in Los Angeles after a brief appearance at the game,” the watchdog group said in a statement.
CNN estimated the cost of flying Air Force 2 from Las Vegas to Indianapolis on Saturday, and then from Indianapolis to Los Angeles on Sunday cost an estimated $242,500. That does not include the cost of Secret Service or advance staffers.
But CNN noted that the Republican National Committee will reimburse the government for some of the costs of the flight to Los Angeles, because the vice president went there for a political event.
The White House promoted coverage of Pence’s actions on Sunday, releasing a statement from the vice president and a photo of him standing with hand over heart during the national anthem. Pence and Trump also tweeted about it.
“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 Sunday afternoon.
“I asked @VP Pence to leave stadium if any players kneeled, disrespecting our country. I am proud of him and @SecondLady Karen,” Trump tweeted an hour later.
And the president kept up the tweeting Monday morning: “The trip by @VP Pence was long planned. He is receiving great praise for leaving game after the players showed such disrespect for country!”
But not everyone was joining in the praise.
“What’s the diff btw atheletes publicly protesting at a game & Mike Pence publicly protesting at a game?”actor John Fugelsang tweeted. “The athelete protests cost you $0.”
Gregg Doyel, sports columnist for the Indy Star, denounced the vice president for a “political stunt.”
“The 49ers were in town to play the Indianapolis Colts,” Doyel wrote. “Pence was in town to upstage Peyton Manning.
“What, you think he didn’t know the 49ers would kneel on Sunday? Pence knew. The 49ers are the one franchise, the only franchise, that have had at least one player kneel before every game since Colin Kaepernick was the first to do it in the 2016 preseason.”
“The real ‘paid protestor?’ @VP Mike Pence owes taxpayers a refund for his cheap stunt,” Vets Against Trump tweeted.
Others rose to Pence’s defense.
“To call that a political stunt is truly outrageous, egregious and offensive,” White House counselor Kellyanne Conway blasted Pence’s said Monday on “Fox & Friends.”
“Liberals unable to come up with any argument on VP Pence’s protest based on principle,” Radio host Mark Simone tweeted. “All they can argue is jet fuel costs.”