Vice President Mike Pence on Tuesday defended visiting his family's Irish hometown and staying at President Donald Trump's property there at taxpayer expense, arguing the resort was a "logical" choice that let him highlight Irish-American ties.
Pence has held official meetings with Irish leaders in the nation's capital, Dublin, but has flown back and forth across the country in Air Force Two to spend nights in the small village of Doonbeg, where his cousin runs a bar and his great-grandmother grew up.
“To have an opportunity to connect to the roots of my family, I think, supports the relationship between the United States and Ireland,” Pence, accompanied by his mother, wife, and sister on the official trip, told reporters in Dublin. “I mean, if you think about the bonds that exist between the Irish people and the American people, they have much to do with shared heritage, they have much to do with family. That’s why it was important for me, before our original trip plan, to at least spend one night in Doonbeg."
Democrats criticized the vice president for using taxpayer dollars not just to visit his family but also to stay at Trump International Golf Club in Doonbeg. "You took an oath to the Constitution, not to @realDonaldTrump," Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Calif., tweeted. "Funneling taxpayer money to @POTUS by staying at this Trump resort is sooooooo corrupt."
"Your tax dollars: making the Trump family richer," the Democratic National Committee said in a tweet directed at Pence and the president, who visited his golf club in Virginia twice over the Labor Day weekend.
While Pence had originally been slated to spend one night there, his chief of staff said last-minute changes to his trip -- including the addition of a stop in Poland, after the president sent him there in his stead -- resulted in the vice president staying in Doonbeg Monday night, flying to Dublin for the day on Tuesday for meetings with Ireland's prime minister and president, and returning to the village for a second night.
Asked on Tuesday if the president asked Pence to stay at his property, the vice president's chief of staff, Marc Short, told reporters that he did not think it was "a request, like a command" -- but rather "a suggestion."
"It's like when we went through the trip, it's like, well, he's going to Doonbeg because that's where the Pence family is from," Short said Tuesday. "It's like, 'Well, you should stay at my place.'"
Early Wednesday, though, the vice president's office followed up with a statement from a spokesperson who said "the decision to stay at" the resort "was solely a decision by the Office of the Vice President and was based on the requirement to find accommodations near the Vice President’s ancestral hometown that could satisfy official meetings on both coasts of the Emerald Isle."
"At no time did the President direct our office to stay at his Doonbeg resort," the spokesperson added.
Pence called it an "opportunity" to spend the night there, arguing that it was “logical” because Doonbeg is “a fairly small place” and the Trump golf club could “accommodate the unique footprint that comes with our security detail and other personnel.”
But the fact that Pence was traveling to Doonbeg at all has raised eyebrows The village is about 140 miles from Dublin. He has flown back and forth from Shannon, Ireland, about an hour's drive away.
"As a general matter, absent security or other serious logistical concerns, government officials stay overnight in hotels near the location of planned meetings," John Cohen, a former homeland security department official who traveled with cabinet-level officials internationally, said. Cohen is an ABC News contributor.
Short said Tuesday an estimate of the cost to taxpayers for the stop would be provided at a later point. He said Pence was "personally paying" for his sister and mother's expenses, according to a reporter traveling with the vice president.
Pence visited Ireland after replacing Trump in Poland for ceremonies commemorating the start of World War II, and on Wednesday he planned to continue onward to Iceland.
On Tuesday evening in Doonbeg, Pence and his family visited Morrissey’s Pub – where he worked briefly pouring pints in 1981 and which his distant cousin owns. He gestured at a nearby house where he said his great grandmother used to live, according to a reporter traveling with him. “We’re going to have a wonderful dinner,” Pence said before entering the bar.
Reporters and news cameras weren't allowed inside.