Kellyanne Conway is pushing back against claims that Vice President Mike Pence’s early exit from an NFL game Sunday was a “political stunt.”
The White House counselor defended Pence’s decision to leave the game in his home state of Indiana after several players on the visiting San Francisco 49ers took a knee during the national anthem to protest police brutality and systemic racism.
“To refer to someone who’s standing up for the flag and all it represents to hundreds of millions of Americans and all it signals to the world ― our veterans, our unity, the founding of our great nation ― to call that a political stunt is truly outrageous, egregious and offensive,” Conway said during an appearance Monday on “Fox & Friends.”
Pence ― along with his wife ― abruptly left Lucas Oil Stadium, home of the Indianapolis Colts, after the protest by more than 20 players on the 49ers.
“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,” Pence tweeted after his departure.
President Donald Trump has aggressively condemned players who have protested during “The Star-Spangled Banner,” encouraging NFL team owners to fire any “son of a bitch” who participates in such demonstrations.
Minutes after Pence left the game, Trump on Twitter said he told Pence to walk out of the game in the event of such a protest ― a near certainty, given that the 49ers are the team most associated with the player demonstrations. Kneeling during the national anthem was started by then-San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick in August 2016.
Trump tweeted again Monday to say that Pence’s trip to Indianapolis was “long planned,” and that the vice president is “receiving great praise” for his response to the player protest.
Democratic lawmakers slammed the White House for using taxpayer money to fund Pence’s trip, given that a protest seemed all but guaranteed. They noted that Pence’s visit turned out to be an expensive way to try to make a point ― the vice president and his entourage required a motorcade, travel on Air Force 2, local police protection and hotel rooms ― all on taxpayers’ dime.
San Francisco safety Eric Reid said Pence’s departure from the game looked “like a PR stunt to me.”
“He knew our team has had the most players protest,” Reid said. “He knew that we were probably going to do it again. This is what systemic oppression looks like. A man with power comes to the game, tweets a couple of things out and leaves the game with an attempt to thwart our efforts. Based on the information I have, that’s the assumption I’ve made.”