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After Arrival In Jerusalem, Pence Talks Government Shutdown, Embassy Relocation


We're going to go overseas now, where Vice President Mike Pence's Middle East trip continues. He has arrived in Jerusalem after stops in Egypt and Jordan. Pence is in the Middle East in an effort to soothe allies following President Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem officially as the capital of Israel. NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith is with us now. She's been traveling with the vice president, and she's in Jerusalem as well. Hi, Tam.


MARTIN: So let's start with the government shutdown. The vice president visited a military installation to speak with U.S. troops. What did he have to say?

KEITH: Yeah. So this installation was near the Syrian border. These troops are involved in the fight against ISIS. So he talked about that a lot. But then he specifically blamed Democrats in the Senate for making these troops worry about whether or not they will get paid.


VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: A minority in the Senate has decided to play politics with military pay, but you deserve better. You and your family shouldn't have to worry for one minute about whether you're going to get paid as you serve in the uniform of the United States. So know this - your president, your vice president and the American people are not going to put up with it.


KEITH: Democrats in the Senate have tried to bring up legislation that would make sure troops continue to get paid even during the shutdown, but that has been blocked so far. And actually, just hours after the shutdown started, I asked Pence whether he would support legislation like that. And he really didn't answer that question directly at all.

MARTIN: So the vice president met today with King Abdullah of Jordan and on Saturday with President el-Sisi in Egypt. Now, both of those leaders have been vocal about their opposition to moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. How did those conversations go?

KEITH: Well, you know, we weren't in the room when they were actually talking to each other and really going at it. But it seems as though Pence got an earful. After his meeting with Abdullah, he said it was a very candid but cordial conversation between friends. And friends can be honest with each other. But Pence really seems to think that having these conversations is going to somehow be able to push this forward, push past that decision to plan to start moving the embassy.


PENCE: If the parties agree, we will support a two-state solution. My perception was that he was encouraged by that message. I told him I would be delivering that message in Jordan, delivering that message in Israel as well.

KEITH: So what he is saying to them is, yes, we would like the peace process to move forward. Yes, we know you're mad, but we've done this thing, so can we please just move on?

MARTIN: Now, originally, the vice president was also supposed to meet with the Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas, but then the Jerusalem decision was announced and that meeting was counseled by Abbas. So is there any sense that Pence is making progress, or is he getting any closer to restarting talks?

KEITH: Well, Pence has a schedule that has a lot of space in it over the next couple of days, but he has no meetings at all planned with Palestinians on this trip. But he's made it clear that he is open to and would like to meet with them. People familiar with the meetings that Pence has had so far both with King Abdullah and with President el-Sisi said that Pence actually appealed to them to reach out to folks at the Palestinian Authority and urge them to meet with him or otherwise get back to the negotiating table. But here's the thing - for the next two days, he is going to be in Israel. And in some ways, this is a victory lap. What will all of that send as a signal to the Palestinians? It's not clear. He says he's going to continue talking about a two-state solution, though.

MARTIN: That's NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith. Thank you so much.

KEITH: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.