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Pence, Pompeo to Attend AIPAC Conference amid Controversy over Sanders

US Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have confirmed their attendance for the third straight year at next week’s annual policy conference of the pro-Israel AIPAC lobbying group. The confab, which will take place March 1-4 in Washington, has become shrouded in controversy, with Democratic presidential candidates choosing not to participate. While AIPAC considers itself bipartisan, it has become engulfed in an ongoing debate in recent years over how strong support for the Jewish state remains on both sides of the US political aisle. Tensions boiled over on Sunday when Sen. Bernie Sanders – who has emerged as the Democratic presidential frontrunner – announced he would not speak at the conference over “concern[s] about the platform AIPAC provides for leaders who express bigotry and oppose basic Palestinian rights.” In response, AIPAC issued a highly unusual rebuke: “Senator Sanders has never attended our conference and that is evident from his outrageous comment,” the lobby’s spokesman told The Times of Israel. “By engaging in such an odious attack on this mainstream, bipartisan [US] political event, Senator Sanders is insulting his very own colleagues and the millions of Americans who stand with Israel. Truly shameful.” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer will be the highest-ranking Democrat at the event, which has traditionally been viewed as an essential campaign stop for those seeking to enter the Oval Office.