Tax reform gets in the way of Pence’s Jerusalem victory lap
Vice President Mike Pence began planning a Christmastime trip to Jerusalem weeks before President Donald Trump decided to upend decades of U.S. policy by formally recognizing the city as Israel’s capital.
The visit, which Pence announced at a ceremony for the 70th anniversary of the United Nations vote establishing Israel as a sovereign state, was designed not just as a move to reaffirm ties with a key ally but as a victory lap for Pence, who was instrumental in lobbying Trump to stick with his campaign promise on Jerusalem.
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But Pence on Thursday delayed the trip by three days, bowing to the reality that he can’t go anywhere until Trump’s top priority—tax reform—gets a Senate vote, expected to happen early next week.
While the vice president’s office framed the change of plans as a desire to be present for a “historic” vote, Pence may be called in to break a tie in the Senate and get the legislation through at all.
The initial tax bill barely squeaked through the senate, getting approved 51-49, with all Democrats and Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) voting against it. But now the administration’s top legislative priority is in a precarious position.
Republican Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Thad Cochran of Mississippi, both of whom supported the Senate version of the tax measure, have missed votes all this week due to medical reasons.
Cochran, whom a spokesman said is recovering from a procedure to deal with a non-melanoma lesion on his nose, can return to the Senate for votes “as needed,” according to his office. McCain is at Walter Reed Medical Center for treatment related to his brain cancer, which he was diagnosed with earlier this year. His office hasn’t said when he would return to the Capitol.
If both McCain and Cochran are absent and no senator switches his or her vote, then Pence would have to break a 49-49 tie.
But Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio said Thursday he wouldn’t vote for the bill unless it includes an expanded child tax credit. Other Republicans, including Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, have yet to take a position on the House-Senate compromise, which is slated to be unveiled on Friday.
“Yesterday the White House informed Senate Leadership that due to the historic nature of the vote in the Senate on tax cuts for millions of Americans, the VP would stay to preside over the vote,” said Pence spokeswoman Alyssa Farah.
Pence’s Middle East trip presents its own challenges. The goal, according to his office, is to “reaffirm the United States’ commitment to its allies in the Middle East and to working cooperatively to defeat radicalism.”
He’ll stop in Egypt, where he’s slated to meet with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, and he’s slated to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem. It is unclear if the tax-driven delay will impact plans to address Israel’s legislature, the Knesset. The Israeli embassy on Thursday declined to comment.
But some major Arab leaders, including Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and leaders of the Egypt Coptic Church, have backed out of meetings with Pence in protest of Trump’s Jerusalem decision. And a group of Arab-Israeli members have said they’d boycott a Knesset speech.
Critics say the prospect for deepening tensions in the region runs high, especially if Pence sticks to a planned trip to Bethlehem in the West Bank.