By KEN THOMAS
WASHINGTON (AP) — Vice President Mike Pence plans to delay his weekend departure for the Middle East as Congress nears completion of a tax overhaul, White House officials said Thursday.
White House officials said Pence now plans to leave for Egypt on Tuesday so he can preside over the Senate during a vote on the tax package.
Pence had been scheduled to leave Saturday for Israel, following President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. White House officials said Pence will travel first to Egypt and then to Israel.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to publicly describe scheduling details.
The officials said Pence’s trip will be abbreviated after Palestinian officials and leading Muslim and Christian clerics in Egypt refused to meet with him during his trip to the region.
Trump and Republican lawmakers are hoping for a vote early next week on the delivery of a package of steep tax cuts for corporations and more modest cuts for families before Christmas. Republicans can afford to lose two votes while counting on Pence to break a tie.
White House officials said they do not expect Pence’s vote to be needed on the tax bill. But Republican Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Thad Cochran of Mississippi have missed votes recently because of health issues and Pence’s decision to preside over the Senate would ensure he’d be available to cast a tie-breaking vote if necessary.
Pence has been forced to adjust his schedule in the Middle East amid protests from leaders over Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Aides to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who has condemned Trump’s decision, said earlier this week that he would not meet with the vice president. Abbas had originally planned to host Pence, a devout Christian, in the biblical West Bank town of Bethlehem.
Pence is scheduled to meet Wednesday in Cairo with Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, a close ally of Trump. Pence will arrive in Israel later Wednesday for a visit to the Western Wall. The vice president will then meet Thursday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, deliver an address to the Knesset and later dine with Netanyahu.
White House officials said Pence will wrap up his trip to Israel on Friday with a meeting with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin and visit the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial.
The status of Jerusalem has been a central issue in the decades-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Trump’s announcement last week was widely perceived as siding with Israel. The decision upended decades of U.S. foreign policy and countered an international consensus that Jerusalem’s status should be decided in negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, who claim east Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.
The White House has said Trump remains committed to the goal of peace and notes he has not taken a position on the boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem or resolution of its contested borders.
Trump has set an ambitious goal of brokering Mideast peace and tasked his son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner to help lay the groundwork for direct negotiations. Kushner and other top Trump aides have traveled to the region to meet with Palestinians, Israelis and officials from Arab nations.
Pence’s trip is scheduled to end on Dec. 23 with a pre-Christmas visit with troops stationed at the United States’ Ramstein Air Base in Germany.