Capitol Hill Buzz: A boxer in the Senate is ready for rumble

WASHINGTON (AP) Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, a declared presidential candidate, has a new defense for missing Attorney General Loretta Lynch's confirmation vote last week. According to Cruz, not voting was the same as voting ''no.''

''I voted twice against Loretta Lynch being confirmed. There was no significance to the final vote. And I had a scheduling conflict. Under the Senate rules, absence is the equivalent of a `no' vote. It is identical procedurally,'' Cruz told reporters on Capitol Hill Thursday.

In fact, missing a confirmation vote isn't the same as voting ''no,'' and could affect the outcome. And Senate rules don't say otherwise.

Cruz's office has insisted all along that the procedural ''cloture'' vote on Lynch's nomination last week was the one that mattered, and Cruz opposed that. He then became the only senator to miss the final vote, despite having delivered a floor speech earlier in the day railing against Lynch.

His office didn't explain why he missed the final vote, although Cruz was expected that evening at a fundraiser in Texas.

Cruz repeated the cloture explanation to reporters, telling them: ''Cloture was the vote that mattered. It required 60 votes.''

In fact cloture on Lynch took only a simple majority under a rules change on nominations pushed through by Democrats. ''Fair point. Sorry I actually thought of the rules as they were written,'' Cruz said when reporters corrected him on that point.

Lynch was confirmed April 23 on a vote of 56-43, with Cruz recorded as ''not voting.''

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The prospect of Saturday's bout pitting Floyd Mayweather against Manny Pacquiao had a retired, self-described minor league boxer fondly recalling his role and love of the sport.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., spoke with bemusement on the Senate floor Thursday about the big-time fight in Las Vegas, reminiscing about his work as a boxing judge and describing his collection of photographs of past boxing greats such as Joe Louis, Sugar Ray Robinson and Jack Dempsey.

''There's nothing like a championship fight. There's nothing like a marquee bout that has all this attention,'' said Reid, a former middleweight boxer.

Reid said he wasn't picking a favorite and wished both men the best of luck. However, he conceded that he had a special affection for Pacquiao, who campaigned for him during a tough Senate race.

''He has stood in my corner in the past, and he will always have my support,'' Reid said.

The five-term senator, who announced a few weeks ago that he wouldn't seek re-election, said the biggest winner will be his home state's economy, thanks to millions of dollars in revenue from the fight. The money is significant, Reid said, as the state suffered during the 2008 economic downturn.

Reid said he pre-purchased the fight on pay-per-view on Wednesday night.

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So who will get the last tweet in the social media showdown between freshman Republican Sen. Tom Cotton and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif?

The Iranian official, in an appearance at New York University on Wednesday, called out Cotton by name, suggesting that the fierce opponent of an emerging nuclear deal involving Iran, the United States and other world powers could do little to change the outcome. Cotton wrote a letter along with 46 other Republican senators to Iranian leaders informing them that even if they reach a deal with President Barack Obama, Congress and future presidents could scuttle the pact.

Cotton responded in a series of tweets, suggesting Zarif come to Washington and debate the Constitution. ''Here's offer: meet in DC, (at)JZarif, time of your choosing to debate Iran's record of tyranny, treachery, & terror.''

In another, the senator said, ''I understand if you decline (at)JZarif after all, in your 20s, you hid in US during Iran-Iraq war while peasants & kids were marched to die.''

Another tweet called him a coward.

Hours later, Zarif responded that ''Serious diplomacy, not macho personal smear, is what we need. Congrats on Ur new born. May U and Ur family enjoy him in peace.''

Cotton and his wife, Anna, welcomed the birth of their son, Gabriel, earlier this week.

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A few House Republicans have a novel approach for making up a shortfall in the Highway Trust Fund: attach legislation to increase the number of visas going to high-skilled workers.

Rep. Blake Farenthold of Texas said Thursday that the $118 billion in increased revenue from a bill to boost high-tech visas is nearly the same amount needed to make up the shortfall in the highway trust fund. Authority to spend money from the trust fund, which pays for most highway projects, expires May 31, and lawmakers are trying to come up with a fix.

''It addresses two things that need to be done: the highways and the high-skilled visas. It's trying to find the money in a way that's a little bit out of the box,'' Farenthold said.

He said he was working on the issue with GOP Rep. Mimi Walters of California. The two lawmakers sit both on the Judiciary and Transportation committees, the two panels with jurisdiction.

Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., looks favorably on the proposal, but it's not clear if it would find favor with House leadership.

Passing a bill to boost high-tech visas is at the top of the wish list for many in the business community. Such provisions were included in comprehensive immigration legislation that passed the Senate two years ago but died in the House. With a comprehensive immigration bill no longer on Congress' agenda, some lobbyists have been maneuvering for a way to get a high-tech visa bill through on its own, and attaching it to a must-pass item like the high-way bill could look like an appealing option - if a long-shot.

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