US VP Pence delays Middle East visit

White House says Trump number 2 needed to ensure tax cut passes, postponing trip until mid-January

Vice President Mike Pence, seen here in a file photo, was scheduled to leave on Tuesday for the trip before it was delayed.


Washington: US Vice President Mike Pence is delaying a controversial visit to the Middle East, the White House said Monday, amid a crunch tax vote on Capitol Hill and protests in the region.

The trip to Egypt and Israel, due to begin Tuesday, has been pushed back to mid-January, allowing 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 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.

Having failed to clear a series of legislative hurdles, the package is seen as key to Trump securing support among his base and skittish political donors.

“We have some senators who obviously can’t make it there for the vote and the Vice President feels that it’s important for him to be here for the largest tax cut in history,” the official said.

The Senate is now expected to vote on the package on Tuesday or in the early hours of Wednesday.

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 occupied Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Breaking with decades of US policy, Trump also said on December 6 that he would move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to occupied Jerusalem.

That prompted a string of deadly protests and Palestinian, Muslim and Coptic leaders had cancelled meetings with the vice president, who had already trimmed the trip by three days.

Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah faction had called for a massive demonstration to protest against Pence’s visit.

The United States vetoed a draft UN resolution rejecting President Donald Trump’s decision to recognise occupied Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, after all 14 other Security Council members backed the measure.

The text was introduced by Egypt, where Pence was scheduled to arrive Wednesday.

Pence had also planned to address the Knesset and visit the Western Wall.

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