When Vice President Mike Pence staged a preplanned walkout during a Week 5 Colts-49ers game, he not only made a political statement, he cost a local police department $14,000, according to new records. That’s on top of the nearly $250,000 Pence cost taxpayers to make a presidentially mandated stand against protesting players.
To recap: Pence attended the Oct. 8 game in the very heart of the protest fire, when players across the league were kneeling during the national anthem to protest social inequality. Several players from the San Francisco 49ers knelt during the anthem, and shortly after kickoff, Pence walked out of the game, tweeting afterward that he would “not dignify any event that disrespects our soldiers, our Flag, or our National Anthem.” (For the record, once again: the protesting players have said from the start, and repeated consistently since, that they have the utmost respect for the military, and that their protests are focused instead on systemic racism.)
Pence’s walkout was a definitive stand against the protesters, but there was plenty of evidence to suggest that this wasn’t an in-the-moment statement of political courage, but rather a pre-planned stunt designed to further inflame an anti-protest populist base. For instance:
• Pence’s office released a fully composed statement on the walkout within minutes after the Vice President left his seat.
• Reporters covering Pence were not permitted to enter the game, and were instead told that “there may be an early departure from the game,” according to CNN.
• The San Francisco 49ers, the former team of Colin Kaepernick, who began the entire protest movement, have long been one of the league’s most progressive teams, and the likelihood that members of the team would kneel was high.
• President Trump himself later put any questions about the walkout’s origins to rest when he noted that the entire idea of an anti-protest protest was pre-planned:
The base’s approval came with a cost. Shortly after the game, ABC News estimated the cost of Pence’s air travel at $242,320, given that Pence flew from Las Vegas to Indianapolis to Los Angeles, with only a brief period of time spent in Indianapolis. Now, the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington has released a study finding that the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department spent an additional $14,163 in additional officer pay and overtime.
“The tone is set at the top when it comes to this administration’s disregard for ethics,” CREW Executive Director Noah Bookbinder told HuffPost in a statement. “Vice President Pence should know better than to use taxpayer money to make a rhetorical point, but carelessness with taxpayer money seems to be a common theme with senior administration officials.”
A large segment of the NFL fanbase—49 percent, by one poll’s count—opposes the protests, with many contending that they disrespect the flag and the military. But that same poll noted that responses were split, 47 percent apiece, on whether Pence was right to stage a protest of his own by walking out of the game.
After several weeks of hammering the NFL, the White House has, for the moment, turned its attention to other matters.
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