WASHINGTON (AP) – Vice President Joe Biden abruptly canceled a planned trip to Uruguay on Friday, citing a bad cold that he's been fighting for days. Yet he planned to move ahead with a later visit to Guatemala, keeping the vice president out of the country during Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's controversial speech to Congress.
Biden had been scheduled to lead the U.S. delegation to incoming President Tabare Vazquez's inauguration on Sunday in the capital of Montevideo. Instead, he'll travel directly to Guatemala on Monday for the second and final leg of his trip.
The White House said the U.S. would still send a delegation to Vazquez's inauguration, but that no replacement for Biden had yet been announced.
Biden's trip to Latin America has attracted attention for the fact that it coincides with Netanyahu's visit to Washington, where the Israeli leader plans to protest President Barack Obama's nuclear negotiations with Iran during an address a joint session of Congress.
Israel and Congressional Republicans engineered that speech without consulting Obama, a move the White House called a breach of diplomatic protocol. The Obama administration is refusing to meet with him and many Democrats are boycotting the speech.
Traditionally, in his role as president of the Senate, the vice president attends joint sessions of Congress and sits just behind the speaker, easily visible to those watching on television. After Netanyahu's speech was scheduled Biden and Secretary of State John Kerry both announced plans to travel overseas that appeared arranged to make them unavailable to attend.
Netanyahu's speech will take place on Tuesday, while Biden is in Guatemala. During that stop, Biden planned to meet with the leaders of the three Central American countries from which a flood of migrant children showed up on the U.S. border last summer. In his budget proposal to Congress this year, President Barack Obama has proposed $1 billion in aid for Central America, or roughly three times what the U.S. typically contributes to the region.
During speeches in New Hampshire on Wednesday, Biden was struggling with a rough cough and apologized to his audience for being under the weather. His office canceled his appearance Thursday at an education summit in Washington and said he was fighting a bad cold.
The canceled trip to Uruguay would have meant likely run-ins with a number of prominent Latin American leaders also attending the inauguration — including Cuban President Raúl Castro, whose government is engaged in diplomatic talks with the U.S. over normalizing relations between the longtime foes. Also planning to attend the inauguration is Venezuela's President Nicolás Maduro, who recently accused Biden of plotting a coup to overthrow him.
The U.S. dismissed that claim as "ludicrous."