It seems like we’ll never know exactly how much it cost taxpayers to have Vice President Mike Pence abruptly leave a football game Sunday between the Indianapolis Colts and San Francisco 49ers. But conservative estimates say it was at least $200,000—and that’s for the air travel alone. CNN did a back-of-the-envelope calculation and figured the flight from Las Vegas (where Pence attended a memorial service for the victims of the mass shooting) to Indianapolis and then to Los Angeles for a previously scheduled political event cost at least $242,500. The cost of a flight straight from Las Vegas to Los Angeles would have been around $45,000.
The vice president’s office insists that’s the wrong way to look at things because the stopover in Indianapolis actually saved taxpayer money. “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,” an aide said. Trump defended Pence this morning on Twitter saying the trip “was long planned” and the former governor “is receiving great praise for leaving game.” Shortly after Pence’s walkout, Trump tweeted he’d asked Pence to leave if NFL players took a knee.
Calculating flight cost alone though is incredibly simplistic and the real cost of the stunt was actually much higher. For one, the vice president travels with a huge staff and they all receive room and board, plus associated expenses like rental cars when they accompany the president. And that’s without counting the increased expenses to boost security at the stadium because of the vice president’s presence nor the additional expenses to have Pence and his team travel back and forth to the stadium.
Beyond the actual monetary expenses though, the clearly planned Pence walkout also provides a disturbing insight into what top White House officials see as priorities. Although the administration is trying to pretend that the whole thing wasn’t actually a planned stunt, the evidence seems stacked up against it. First of all, everyone knew that at least some 49ers players would kneel just like they had since Colin Kaepernick first did so in the 2016 preseason. Plus, members of Pence’s press poll said they were told not to bother entering the stadium because they likely wouldn’t be there for long. And then minutes after he walked out, Pence was ready to fire off a series of well-composed tweets that included graphics that had clearly been prepared in advance. The Washington Post’s Philip Bump explains why all this preparation for a political stunt is so galling:
The time of the president and vice president are valuable, and what they do and where they go reflect the things that are important to them. You can always scrounge up more money; you can’t create more time. And Trump’s visit to Puerto Rico last week lasted only a few more hours than Pence’s trip to Indianapolis. Of the 520-odd cumulative days that Trump and Pence have been in power, one was spent traveling to Puerto Rico and one was spent going to Indianapolis. Time is spent in other ways, too: As we’ve noted before, the president has spent a lot more of his time tweeting about the NFL than he has the devastation of Hurricane Maria.
Pence’s flight to Indianapolis was planned for weeks; his social-media response ready to go with a graphic immediately after he left the stadium. It’s an impressive level of preparation for an administration, as it turns out, focused on goading the president’s base into anger at black athletes.
When the top two elected leaders of our democracy decide that political speech—in this case, a silent and non-violent form of political speech—is unacceptable to the point of walking out of the game where it happens, well, that’s chilling. That’s the kind of oppressive nonsense our ancestors were leaving when they crossed the Atlantic Ocean hundreds of years ago.