WASHINGTON — US Vice President Mike Pence’s visit to Israel scheduled for this week has been delayed until an unknown date in mid-January, the White House announced Monday evening, as the Trump administration seeks to push through historic tax reform legislation.
The delay will allow Pence to remain in Washington in case he needs to break a tie vote in the Senate over President Donald Trump’s tax reforms.
“The largest tax cut in American history is a landmark accomplishment for President Trump and a relief to millions of hardworking Americans,” the vice president’s press secretary, Alyssa Farah, said in a statement. “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.”
Another administration official told The Times of Israel that because the vote could possibly “take place shortly before midnight on Wednesday, it was not practically possible for [Pence] to travel this week.”
Pence’s visit had already been postponed for several days due to attempts to pass the tax-cutting bill through the US Congress. He had originally been set to arrive on Sunday, but then delayed his arrival.
Taking into account the possibility that the vote could delay him another day, the White House decided his trip was coming at an inopportune time — and that more could be accomplished if he came next month.
“The tax vote is still in very good shape, but we don’t want to take any chances whatsoever,” said a senior administration official.
Senator John McCain’s return home to Arizona to fight cancer has left Republicans with a razor thin margin to push the legislation over the finishing line.
If the vote were delayed, Pence would have arrived in Egypt late on Thursday night and then would have run up against Shabbat and Christmas for his visit to Israel, the official said. “Therefore, to get the most out of the trip, the VP will now be traveling in mid-January.”
Jason Greenblatt, Trump’s top envoy trying to broker peace between Israel and the Palestinians, is still on his way to the region as part of the administration’s continued push to clinch an accord.
Officials denied that Pence’s decision was motivated by a wave of deadly protests in the wake of Trump’s deeply controversial decision to declare Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
“This is all about the largest tax cut in American history and having the vice president and the full team here,” the official said.
“It’s an odd case to make given we are going to be there in two or three weeks,” a second senior White House official said.
Breaking with decades of US policy, Trump also said on December 6 that he would move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
That prompted a string of protests and Palestinian, Muslim and Coptic leaders had cancelled meetings with the vice president, who had already trimmed the trip by three days.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmud Abbas’s Fatah faction had called for a massive demonstration to protest against Pence’s visit.
In his address, Trump insisted that after repeated failures to achieve peace, a new approach was needed, and said the move to recognize Jerusalem as the seat of Israel’s government was merely based on reality. He stressed that he was not specifying the boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in the city, and called for no change in the status quo at the city’s holy sites.
The US on Monday vetoed a draft UN resolution rejecting Trump’s decision, after all 14 other Security Council members backed the measure. The text was introduced by Egypt, where Pence was scheduled to arrive Wednesday.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.