(photo credit: REUTERS)
WASHINGTON – US Vice President Mike Pence has delayed his travel to the region for a second time, citing an upcoming decision on tax reform in which he may have to cast a tie-breaking vote in his role as president of the Senate.
Pence is now scheduled to visit Israel and Egypt in mid-January, to meet with their political, religious and civic leaders. He plans to focus on issues such as the nuclear deal brokered with Iran in 2015, Arab-Israeli peace and the persecution of religious minorities, including local Christians.
The vice president was supposed to arrive early this week, but postponed his scheduled arrival for a few days, in the hopes of a crucial final Senate vote on sweeping legislation that will rewrite America’s tax code for the first time in three decades. Now he has put the trip off until next month.
“The largest tax cut in American history is a landmark accomplishment for President Trump and a relief to millions of hardworking Americans,” Pence’s press secretary, Alyssa Farah, said in a statement.
“The vice president is committed to seeing the tax cut through to the finish line.”
Pence vows US loyalty to Israel during AIPAC speech (credit: REUTERS)
A White House official told The Jerusalem Post
that the tax reform vote “could possibly take place shortly before midnight on Wednesday, and it was not practically possible for the vice president to travel this week.”
“He 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, [Pence] will now be traveling in mid-January.”
Jason Greenblatt, US President Donald Trump’s special representative for international negotiations, will still travel as planned to Israel this week, “to continue working on the administration’s peace efforts.”
Pence’s planned trip has been dogged by controversy after Palestinian Authority leadership said it would refuse to receive him in the West Bank in light of Trump’s decision earlier this month to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
Senior administration officials say the vice president was a chief advocate of the move.
On a related issue, a Channel 10 report claimed that administrator of the Western Wall Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz blocked the US Vice President from conducting a press conference at the Western Wall plaza during his planned visit.
The US diplomatic team planning the visit asked if Pence would be able to conduct a press conference for the press corps traveling with him from the US, but Rabinowitz reportedly deemed the request to be inappropriate, stating that the Western Wall is a holy place and not suitable for political or media events.
However, sources who participated in the talks ahead of the visit told The Jerusalem Post
on Tuesday that US Vice President Mike Pence could give a press conference during his visit to the Western Wall when he visits the holy site next month, if he so wishes, in the upper plaza of the site.
The source denied earlier reports that the administrator of the Western Wall Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz had completely barred Pence from conducting a press conference at the Western Wall during his upcoming visit to the country. According to the source, Pence would be able to hold the event in the upper plaza, but not the lower one, which is considered sacred.Jeremy Sharon contributed to this report.