WASHINGTON, FEBRUARY 17, 2011 (STAR) By AP - [PHOTO - BOXING FAN: Filipino boxing champion and Sarangani Rep. Manny Pacquiao and US Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid pose with the flags they exchanged following a press conference at the Capitol in Washington yesterday. AP]

Manny Pacquiao stopped traffic outside the White House on Tuesday, during a whirlwind tour of the nation’s capital that included meetings with President Barack Obama and Sen. Harry Reid.

The Filipino boxing sensation was crossing the street near the White House when several drivers, trying to snap photos of Pacquiao with cell phones, caused a multicar pileup, Pacquiao publicist Fred Sternburg told The Associated Press. Nobody was hurt in the accident.

Pacquiao and his wife Jinkee spent time talking boxing and basketball with the President, along with a bit of business. Pacquiao was elected representative of Sarangani province nine months ago in national elections in the Philippines and has taken the new job as seriously as he does boxing. He’s already explored building the area’s first provincial hospital.

“This is an unforgettable moment in my life,” Pacquiao said earlier in the day.

The eight-division world champion posed with Obama for several photos, including a boxing pose, in the Oval Office, Sternburg said. The President gave him three grocery bags full of light blue M&M’s with the presidential seal, along with a watch adorned with the seal, and said he hopes to someday visit the Philippines.

Pacquiao invited the President to his fight against Shane Mosley on May 7 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, Sternburg said. Obama said he would be busy but promised to watch on television.

“Manny said it was very impressive being in the Oval Office, seeing it first hand. He said it was a great honor to meet the President of the United States,” Sternburg said, pausing to laugh. “He also said the President is a very tall man.”

Earlier, Pacquiao roamed the halls of the Capital as the guest of Reid, a Democrat and long-ago boxer whose recent re-election was no doubt helped by Pacquiao’s campaign appearances.

After Reid and Pacquiao exchanged national flags, Reid was asked how long he would last in his prime if the two exchanged punches.

“About five seconds,” Reid said.

Pacquiao arrived in town by train on Tuesday, wrapping up a press tour promoting his next fight that began in Los Angeles and included stops in Las Vegas and New York. The fact that he’s arrived on the scene has been good for boxing, making plenty of high-profile fans and bringing some mainstream attention to a sport that has been seemingly dying for decades.

“You can become a great athlete and still be a great person,” Reid said.

Reid felt compelled to set up Pacquiao’s meeting with Obama because of Pacquiao’s enthusiastic following in the United States. Hundreds of fans turned out for public appearances in Los Angeles and New York City, waving flags and waiting hours to see him.

“I try not to bother the president,” Reid said, “but I bothered him on this occasion.”

Pacquiao’s every move was shadowed as he walked onto the Capitol grounds with his wife. Promoter Bob Arum said it was reminiscent of the heyday of Muhammad Ali, whom he also promoted.

“He comes at a very fortuitous time,” Arum said. “If anybody can bring boxing back to the mainstream … it’s Manny Pacquiao.” 

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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