U.S. Vice President Mike Pence waves to supporters at the end of a rally in Kinston, North Carolina on October 25, 2020.
Jonathan Drake | Reuters
Vice President Mike Pence is expected to travel overseas for the first time just hours after presiding over the Congressional session that officially proclaims President-elect Joe Biden the winner of the November contest against President Donald Trump during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Indiana Republican will be leaving the United States on Jan. 6 for a trip that will include stopovers in Bahrain, Israel and Poland, according to a government document from NBC News. Pence stays abroad until January 11th.
The itinerary, which one administrator said could change, has two advantages for Pence.
He is expected to use his final trip as Vice President to announce the government’s foreign policy achievements, including the normalization of relations between Israel and a number of Gulf states, including Bahrain.
It will also allow Pence, who allegedly has his own ambitions as president, to get out of Washington after announcing the defeat of his and Trump’s defeat to Biden and Vice-President-elect Kamala Harris.
The trip begins on the same day that Congress meets for a joint session to officially count the votes for President and Vice President. Under federal law, the President of the Senate – a role of the Vice President – is tasked with casting the ballots and announcing the winner.
The job is politically uncomfortable for Pence as Trump struggled against a precedent by refusing to admit defeat. Biden won 306 votes, 36 more than the 270 it took to win. Trump won 232 votes. The electoral college officially voted on Monday.
Pence has been in lockstep with Trump for four years and remains a loyal ally in a White House plagued by abnormally high sales and frequent fighting. However, the Vice President largely stayed in the background as Trump tried to reverse the results of the November 3 election. Even so, Pence supported the president’s unsubstantiated allegations of electoral fraud and did not publicly acknowledge Biden’s victory or congratulate the former vice president.
Other senior Republicans have slowly begun to recognize the election results, including Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. On Tuesday, McConnell urged his Republicans not to attempt to block Biden’s declaration of victory.
The vice president’s office declined to comment on NBC News. Politico, who previously covered the trip, quoted Pence allies who said there was no indication that Pence was failing to perform his statutory duties.
Pence’s role as chairman of the January 6th Congressional session is a formality and he has no say in choosing the winner. On at least one previous occasion when the Vice President declined to chair in 1969, the work was temporarily done by the President of the Senate, according to the Congressional Research Service. This year, the pro tempore president is Senator Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa.
In addition to political considerations, the timing of Pence’s trip may also be related to the recent approval of the first vaccine for the prevention of coronavirus. The Food and Drug Administration approved a Pfizer emergency vaccine earlier this month.
Pence, the head of the White House’s coronavirus task force, has not traveled abroad since the Covid-19 pandemic spread in the United States. On Friday he will publicly receive one of the first doses of the vaccine, the White House said.
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