) — Democratic lawmakers on Sunday questioned how much taxpayer money was spent on an apparent political stunt by Vice President Mike Pence, who walked out of an NFL game between the Indianapolis Colts and San Francisco 49ers after a number of 49ers took a knee during the national anthem.
“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, the former governor of Indiana, tweeted Sunday afternoon after leaving Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
Soon after, Pence issued a statement
, saying, “While everyone is entitled to their own opinions, I don’t think it’s too much to ask NFL players to respect the Flag and our National Anthem.”
President Donald Trump later tweeted that walking out was his idea, saying he “asked @VP Pence to leave stadium if any players kneeled.”
Around 20 49ers players took a knee Sunday during the playing of the national anthem.
That players would kneel during the anthem was a near certainty. The protest movement that has swept the league began with then-49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick last year, and some 49ers players have knelt during the national anthem every game for the past two seasons. Players have repeatedly said they are protesting police brutality and systemic racism in America, and their actions are not meant to disrespect the anthem, the flag or members of the U.S. military.
Adding to the speculation that Pence’s abrupt departure was political theater, reporters traveling with the vice president were reportedly told to wait outside the stadium
because there may be a early departure.
If it was a statement, Pence flew halfway across the country to make it. He was in Las Vegas on Saturday, and after leaving the game he flew to Los Angeles for a Sunday-night fundraiser.
Sen. Brian Schatz of Hawaii, a Democrat, said that if the trip was a stunt, it was “not an inexpensive thing to do.”
Rep. Adam Schiff, a Democrat from California and an outspoken Trump administration critic, asked Sunday, “how much taxpayer money was wasted on this stunt?”
The answer is likely hundreds of thousands of dollars, at least.
CNN White House reporter Kevin Liptak tweeted
that Air Force 2 costs the government $42,936 an hour to fly, and estimated Pence’s trip to Indianapolis took about two and a half hours flying time, each way. That would put the flight’s cost well over $200,000.
And that doesn’t include the costs of a hotel room in Indianapolis,where Pence spent Saturday night, and extra police protection in Indianapolis. Fans at Sunday’s game were asked to show up early
due to enhanced security at the stadium.
A number of top Trump administration officials have been investigated for wasteful spending on unnecessary flights, although previous criticism has concerned the use of private flights when comparable commercial flights could have been taken. An investigation into the use of private jets by Tom Price last month led to his resignation
as secretary of health and human services.