The president’s explanation adds confusion to the uproar over the additional travel expenses necessary for Pence to attend an NFL game in Indiana on Sunday, which the vice president promptly fled following political activity on the field.
Pence, the former governor of Indiana, attended Sunday’s Colts–San Francisco 49ers game in Indianapolis, but he left the game after seeing players take a knee for the national anthem, a flashpoint of controversy stoked by the president.
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.
— Vice President Mike Pence (@VP) October 8, 2017
Trump immediately took credit for Pence’s act.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 8, 2017
On Monday morning, however, Trump said the trip was “long planned,” an apparent pushback against critics who accused Pence of wasting taxpayer dollars to travel to a football game he promptly left at the president’s request, according to Trump’s previous statement.
The trip by @VP Pence was long planned. He is receiving great praise for leaving game after the players showed such disrespect for country!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 9, 2017
Critics quickly accused Pence of wasting taxpayer money on a publicity stunt, as the vice president was in Nevada and scheduled to travel to neighboring California from there. His brief jaunt to Indianapolis, according to CNN’s estimate, cost nearly $200,000 more than flying from Nevada to California on Air Force 2. At least some of those funds will be reimbursed by the Republican Party, CNN reports, as the vice president was attending a party event in California.
However, Sunday’s game was special because the Colts were retiring the jersey of their longtime quarterback Peyton Manning, so it’s plausible that Pence planned to go to the game before Trump began his attack on NFL players who kneel for the national anthem to protest racial injustice in America.
The 49ers became the nexus of the NFL’s anthem controversy when last year quarterback Colin Kaepernick began his protest while on the team. Although Kaepernick is no longer with San Francisco, Pence would have had no doubt that members of the 49ers would protest the anthem, as last week, 30 members of the team took a knee before their game against Arizona.
Unless Pence and Trump didn’t know who was on the schedule, many believe that the plan was always for Pence to walk out in support of the president’s stance, traveling to Indiana explicitly to protest the NFL.
Last night, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones also came out in favor of Trump’s “fire or suspend” stance on players who kneel for the anthem, saying he would bench anyone who disrespected the flag.
“If there’s anything that is disrespectful to the flag, then we will not play. Understand?” Jones said. “We will not … if we are disrespecting the flag, then we will not play. Period.”
Update 9:33am, Oct. 9: The vice president’s office released this statement to CNN regarding backlash to Pence’s NFL trip.
“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. If the Vice President did not go to Indiana for the Colts game, he would have flown back to D.C. 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.”
Update 12:18pm CT, Oct. 9: CNN reports that the Republican National Committee would reimburse costs for Pence’s travel. However, an RNC spokesperson tells the Daily Dot in an email the California event Pence was set to attend was run by the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), not the RNC.