A group of House Democrats on Thursday demanded that Vice President Mike Pence pay back the expenses of his travel this month to Indianapolis for an NFL game he abruptly left after players kneeled during the national anthem.
In a letter to Pence, the lawmakers urged the vice president to reimburse taxpayers the cost of attending the game, where the Indianapolis Colts faced off against the San Francisco 49ers.
Pence’s travel to and from Indiana cost taxpayers about $242,500, according to a CNN report. The amount doesn’t include the cost of Secret Service or advance staff. The Democratic lawmakers also asked that Pence make clear exactly how much public funds were spent on the trip.
“Flying across the country and back at taxpayer expense simply to enter and then immediately depart a football stadium serves no discernible public interest,” Democratic Reps. Ruben Gallego (Ariz.), Ted Lieu (Calif.), Pramila Jayapal (Wash.), Brendan Boyle (Pa.) and Jamie Raskin (Md.) wrote.
“Instead, the fact that your campaign immediately sought to capitalize on this exercise in order to solicit donations leaves the distinct impression that this trip was purely political in nature and was unrelated to your official duties.”
Pence’s office said that he had been planning to attend the Colts game for weeks. But Pence walked out of the game after athletes knelt during the national anthem to protest police brutality and racial inequity in the U.S.
“President Trump and I will not dignify any event that disrespects our soldiers, our Flag, or our National Anthem,” he said in a statement.
President Trump tweeted that Pence left the game at his suggestion, saying that “I asked @VP Pence to leave stadium if any players kneeled, disrespecting our country.”
Trump’s Make America Great Again Committee sought to raise money off of Pence’s walkout the next day, adding fuel to criticism that the move was pre-orchestrated to stoke cultural tensions over the NFL protests.
Trump sparked debate over the act of players kneeling during the national anthem during a campaign rally in Alabama last month, at which he called on NFL leaders to fire athletes engaging in the protests.
The NFL responded by announcing that the league will continue allowing players to kneel to protest racial injustice without penalty.