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Amid Jerusalem unrest, Pence postpones Mideast trip to mid-January, citing tax bill

/ Source: Associated Press
Image: Palestinians burn the picture of U.S. Vice President Mike Pence during a protest against Trump's decision to announce Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and amid the expected visit of Pence in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, Dec. 17, 2017.
Palestinians burn the picture of U.S. Vice President Mike Pence in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, Dec. 17, 2017.Abed Al Hashlamoun / EPA

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WASHINGTON — Vice President Mike Pence on Monday postponed his trip to Egypt and Israel until mid-January, citing the need to preside over the Senate on a sweeping tax overhaul.

Pence will instead travel to the Middle East during the week of Jan. 14 so he can be in the Senate for Tuesday's expected tax vote.

Related: Arab states demand reversal of Trump’s Jerusalem decision

Senior White House officials said the uncertainty of the timing of the Senate vote could have pushed back Pence's schedule in Egypt and Israel, and the vice president felt it was important to be in the Senate in case he was needed to break a tie vote. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal plans.

Image: Palestinians burn the picture of U.S. Vice President Mike Pence during a protest against Trump's decision to announce Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and amid the expected visit of Pence in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, Dec. 17, 2017.
Palestinians burn the picture of U.S. Vice President Mike Pence in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, Dec. 17, 2017.Abed Al Hashlamoun / EPA

Pence had been expected to depart for Egypt on Tuesday night, followed by a visit to Israel and then a meeting with U.S. troops in Germany. The vice president's office had originally planned to depart on Saturday night for Israel but pushed back his departure because of the pending tax bill.

The schedule shift comes after President Donald Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital prompted Palestinian officials and leading Muslim and Christian clerics in Egypt to refuse to meet with Pence.

Related: Why Trump’s provocative Jerusalem move hasn’t sparked an intifada

The vice president had been scheduled to be in Cairo on Wednesday for a meeting with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi and was expected to arrive in Israel later Wednesday for a visit to the Western Wall. Pence had been slated to hold meetings Thursday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and deliver an address to the Knesset.

"The vice president is committed to seeing the tax cut through to the finish line," said Alyssa Farah, Pence's press secretary, in a statement. She said Pence "looks forward to traveling to Egypt and Israel in January."

Republicans, who hold a narrow 52-48 majority in the Senate, can afford to lose just two votes while counting on Pence to break a tie.

GOP Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., returned to his home state after being treated for a viral infection at Walter Reed Medical Center in Maryland. He had missed votes last week and will miss the vote on the tax bill.

Related: Palestinian protesters set pictures of Mike Pence on fire

GOP Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., missed votes last week. Cochran had a non-melanoma lesion removed from his nose earlier this week but is expected to vote on the tax bill.

Republicans are expected to pass the bill in the Senate by a narrow margin amid unified Democratic opposition, but Pence officials said the vice president did not want to take any chances.

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