White House pushes back on critics who say Pence’s exit from Colts game was a ‘political stunt’

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Monday started with new push-back from officials close to Vice President Mike Pence, defending his decision to leave the Indianapolis Colts game Sunday immediately following the national anthem, after players with the San Francisco 49ers knelt.

"The President stands with the American people," Marc Lotter said Monday on “Fox and Friends,” the vice president's former press secretary. "And it's the height of hypocrisy for liberal Democrats to celebrate players who disrespect the flag, disrespect the national anthem and those who defend it and then accuse the vice president for engaging in his same rights of doing a political stunt."

Amid new questions about a taxpayer-funded “political stunt,” a senior administration official told FOX59 Monday morning, Pence would have returned to Washington if he hadn’t stopped in Indianapolis.

“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."

“There absolutely are costs on the ground,” Tim Swarens said, a columnist and opinion editor at the Indianapolis Star. “Having the VP, it’s heightened security at Lucas Oil Stadium whenever you have the VP coming into a big public event like a football game.”

A CNN analysis reported air costs on Air Force 2 from Las Vegas to Indianapolis to Los Angeles cost roughly $242,500, which excluded costs of advance personnel, Secret Service or support on the ground.

Senior administration officials said Sunday Pence had hoped all players would stand for the national anthem, but he was prepared to leave if they didn’t after discussing the matter with President Donald Trump.

Trump continued his defense and praise over Pence’s decision in another tweet Monday morning.

In his latest column, Swarens wrote the move “was a premeditated political stunt.”

“Politically, though, they’re speaking to their base,” Swarens said. “This is popular among Trump supporters, we need to understand that. And so this was a message sent to the Trump supporters, the Trump base, ‘we’re standing up for you and your values.’”

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