Vice President Mike Pence is scheduled to travel overseas 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 contest against President Donald Trump.
The Indiana Republican will depart the U.S. on Jan. 6 for a trip that will include stops in Bahrain, Israel and Poland, according to a government document obtained by NBC News. Pence will remain abroad through Jan. 11.
The travel schedule, which an administration official said is subject to change, has dual benefits for Pence.
He is expected to use his last trip as vice president to tout the administration's foreign policy achievements, including the normalization of relations between Israel and a number of Gulf states including Bahrain.
It will also allow Pence, rumored to be harboring his own presidential ambitions, to get out of Washington after performing the awkward job of announcing his and Trump's defeat to Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris.
The trip kicks off on the same day that Congress will meet for a joint session to formally count the electoral votes for president and vice president. Under federal law, the president of the Senate — a role held by the vice president — is charged with presenting the electoral votes and announcing the winner.
The job is a politically uncomfortable one for Pence, given that Trump has bucked precedent by refusing to concede defeat. Biden won 306 electoral votes, 36 more than the 270 needed for victory. Trump won 232 electoral votes. The Electoral College formally voted on Monday.
Pence has been in lockstep with Trump for the four years of his administration, remaining a loyal ally in a White House that was plagued with unusually high turnover and frequent infighting. But the vice president has largely remained in the background as Trump has attempted to reverse the results of the Nov. 3 election. Even so, Pence has been supportive of the president's baseless claims of election fraud and has not publicly acknowledged Biden's victory or congratulated the former vice president.
Vice President Mike Pence delivers remarks at the White House Coronavirus Task Force briefingClosing Bell
Other senior Republicans have slowly begun to acknowledge the election results, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. On Tuesday, McConnell urged his fellow Republicans not to attempt to block the declaration of Biden's victory.
The vice president's office declined to comment to NBC News. Politico, which earlier reported on the trip, cited Pence allies who said that there was no suggestion that Pence would not do his statutorily mandated duties.
Pence's role presiding over the Jan. 6 congressional session is a formality, and he does not have a say in selecting the election's winner. On at least one previous occasion in which the vice president declined to preside, in 1969, the job has been done by the Senate's president pro tempore, according to the Congressional Research Service. This year, the president pro tempore is Sen. 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 designed to prevent the coronavirus. The Food and Drug Administration approved a vaccine made by Pfizer for emergency use earlier this month.
Pence, the leader of the White House coronavirus task force, has not traveled abroad since before the Covid-19 pandemic spread throughout 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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