The White House announced Monday that Vice President Pence is delaying a planned trip to the Middle East in case his vote is needed to pass tax legislation — a move that also comes amid uproar over the Trump administration’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
Pence was scheduled to leave Tuesday night, arriving in Egypt on Wednesday for a bilateral meeting with Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sissi. From there he was scheduled to visit Israel before traveling to Germany to meet with U.S. troops.
Pence’s office said Monday the trip was being delayed so he can stay in Washington until votes on the tax legislation are completed. He is now expected to travel to the Middle East during the week of Jan. 14, according to senior White House officials.
“The largest tax cut in American history is a landmark accomplishment for President Trump and a relief to millions of hard-working Americans,” Pence press secretary Alyssa Farah said. “The vice president is committed to seeing the tax cut through to the finish line. The vice president looks forward to traveling to Egypt and Israel in January.”
Pence could potentially break a tie vote in the Senate on the tax bill, but that scenario became more remote on Monday after Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) announced her support for the bill. A senior official said Monday that even though “the tax vote is still in very good shape,” the last-minute failure of health-care reform legislation in July — following a thumbs-down from Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) — taught the White House not to take any votes for granted until they have actually been cast.
The delay comes on the same day that the United States blocked a Security Council resolution at the United Nations that would have rejected Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital. Egypt called for the resolution, which did not name the United States or Trump but expressed "deep regret at certain decisions concerning the status of Jerusalem," and asserted that "Jerusalem is a final status issue to be resolved through negotiations." This was the Trump administration's first Security Council veto, and all 14 other members supported the resolution, underscoring U.S. isolation on the issue.
A senior official said that high-profile protests of Trump’s decision were not a factor in delaying the trip.
Originally, Pence had planned to leave Saturday for a nearly week-long trip that included meetings with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Sissi, grand imam of Egypt’s Al-Azhar mosque and the pope of the Egyptian Coptic Church, who leads the largest Christian denomination in the Middle East.
Then Trump announced on Dec. 6 that his administration had decided to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, breaking with decades of U.S. policy and drawing sharp criticism from allies and adversaries. The administration also announced plans to eventually move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Suddenly, half of Pence's meetings were canceled. Abbas's diplomatic adviser, Majdi Khaldi, said Abbas would not meet with Pence "because the U.S. has crossed red lines" with its decision on Jerusalem. The two religious leaders also declined to meet with Pence. In the West Bank city of Bethlehem, which originally was a scheduled stop on Pence's tour, religious leaders turned off the city's Christmas tree lights earlier to protest the White House announcement.
Sissi agreed to still meet with Pence, although his decision to do so was deeply unpopular in Egypt.
On Thursday, the White House announced that Pence would delay his trip by three days and shorten the itinerary. In doing so, senior officials said the protests were not a factor and that the vice president needed to stay in Washington until the tax vote was completed. At the time, the Republicans’ already thin margin in the Senate appeared even more precarious because McCain, who is battling brain cancer, had been hospitalized for side effects of his treatment. McCain has since flown home to Arizona to spend holidays with family, and is expected to miss the tax vote.
With the Senate vote now expected late Tuesday or early Wednesday, White House officials said Monday that Pence’s trip could not be shortened or delayed any further, so they decided to postpone. While they have not yet rescheduled his meetings, officials said that they hope the vice president will be able to keep all of his original appointments and perhaps visit additional countries in the region.
Carol Morello and Loveday Morris contributed to this report.