US Vice President Mike Pence waves to supporters at the end of a rally in Kinston, North Carolina, Oct. 25, 2020.
Jonathan Drake | Reuters
Vice President Mike Pence is scheduled to travel abroad for the first time during the Covid-19 pandemic, just hours after presiding over the Congressional session in which President-elect Joe Biden will be formally declared the winner of November’s game against president Donald Trump.
The Indiana Republican will depart from the US on Jan. 6 for a trip with stops in Bahrain, Israel and Poland, according to a government document obtained by NBC News. Pence will stay abroad until January 11th.
The itinerary, which an administrative officer said is subject to change, has dual benefits for Pence.
He is expected to use his latest trip as vice president to highlight the government’s achievements in foreign policy, including the normalization of relations between Israel and a number of Gulf states, including Bahrain.
It will also enable Pence, who is said to cherish his own presidential ambitions, to leave Washington after carrying out the daunting task of announcing him and Trump’s defeat to Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris.
The journey begins on the same day Congress meets for a joint session to formally count election votes for president and vice president. Under federal law, the President of the Senate – a role played by the Vice President – is charged with presenting election votes and announcing the winner.
The job is politically uncomfortable for Pence, as Trump broke a precedent by refusing to admit defeat. Biden won 306 electoral votes, 36 more than the 270 it took for the win. Trump won 232 electoral votes. The Electoral College formally voted on Monday.
Pence has been in close contact with Trump throughout the four years of his administration and has remained a loyal ally in a White House plagued by unusually high turnover and frequent infighting. But the vice president has largely remained in the background as Trump has tried to reverse the results of the November 3 election. Still, Pence supported the president’s baseless allegations of electoral fraud and did not publicly acknowledge Biden’s victory or congratulate the former vice president.
Other high-ranking Republicans have slowly begun to acknowledge the election results, including Kentucky Senate Leader Mitch McConnell. On Tuesday, McConnell urged his fellow Republicans not to block the announcement of Biden’s victory.
The vice president’s office declined to comment on NBC News. Politico, who previously covered the trip, quoted Pence allies as saying there was no suggestion that Pence would not fulfill his legally mandated duties.
Pence’s role as chairman of the January 6 congressional meeting is a formality, and he has no say in selecting the winner of the election. On at least one previous occasion when the vice president declined to preside, in 1969, the work was done by the president of the senate pro tempore, according to the Congressional Research Service. This year’s president is pro-tempore Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa.
In addition to political considerations, the timing of Pence’s journey may also be related to the recent approval of the first vaccine designed to prevent the coronavirus. The Food and Drug Administration earlier this month approved a vaccine made by Pfizer for emergency use.
Pence, the leader of the White House coronavirus task force, has not traveled since the Covid-19 pandemic spread across the United States. Friday, he will publicly receive one of the first doses of the vaccine, the White House said.
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