The Senate Showdown | Russia’s Loose Nukes | Ford Moving Up? | Counting Votes in Miami

Filibusters Aren’t Busted—At least not yet. When Senate Democrats proposed a cloture motion to stop debate on, and block the confirmation of, the controversial John Bolton to be the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, it passed 56 to 42. That was 4 votes short of the 60 needed under Senate rules to end the debate and stop the Bolton nomination. But there’s another Bolton vote to come when the Senate returns from a 10-day recess.

The Democrats’ success in blocking the first attempt to confirm John Bolton’s appointment stemmed largely from the Bush administration’s refusal to release documents that senators of both parties had requested, and that were likely to make Bolton look even worse than he did after his opponents had publicized his glaring shortcomings as a potential ambassador.

The “Bolton slowdown” followed the Democrats’ surprising retreat from a filibuster threat to block the confirmation of Priscilla R. Owen, a conservative Bush appointee to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. The vote to confirm her was 55 to 43.

Under a bipartisan agreement negotiated by the “gang of 14″—seven Democrats and seven Republicans, led by Senator John McCain (R-AZ)—the confirmation of at least two other conservative judges, Janice Rogers Brown and William Pryor, is expected in June.

To many this display of comity seemed more like comedy. A slashing editorial in the usually Republican-supporting Wall Street Journal began by grumbling that “Americans have learned to expect little from Congress, and by that standard the 109th version controlled by Republicans has met expectations.”

Headlined “Republicans at Bay,” the editorial reached out to the really big league judicial conflict soon to come in the Senate, the consideration of George Bush’s expected right-wing pick—or maybe picks—for the Supreme Court. When Chief Justice William Rehnquist retires, as is expected soon, as he has been ailing, the Journal says “the fight over Mr. Bush’s Supreme Court nominations will determine whether the G.O.P.’s Senate majority counts for anything at all. The voters don’t expect miracles, but they do expect better than what Republicans have so far been able to produce.”

The Senator from Illinois—As a junior senator, Barack Obama only occasionally takes the floor to make his strong statements. But Senator Obama was recognized a week ago to level some sharp criticism on the failure of the Bush Administration to do more—or really, to do anything—about Russia’s failure to round up and secure its huge piles of nuclear weapons.

“While many have turned their attention to China and other parts of the world,” Obama said, “I believe that the most important threat to the security of the United States continues to lie within the borders of the former Soviet Union in the form of stockpiles of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons.”

Obama called for a gathering of senior administration officials, together with a bipartisan panel from Congress and some retired military and State Department officials, to “dramatically improve progress on these issues.” “Delay is not an option,” he said. “We need to start making progress on this issue today.”

His warning was reinforced a few days later by the failure again of the United Nations to reach agreement on any course of action to propel nuclear disarmament.

In Obama’s Footsteps?—Representative Harold Ford, Jr., of Tennessee, a five-term House member with a large campaign fund, filed for the Senate seat being vacated in 2006 by the Republican majority leader, Senator Bill Frist. Ford, who is black, is given a good chance to win Frist’s seat.

Had Enough!—In vote-muddled Florida, the election supervisor of Miami-Dade County has recommended getting rid of its electronic voting machines, bought for $24.5 million after the 2000 dimpled-chad election fiasco. He wants the county to switch to optical scanners that produce printed paper ballots that voters can examine. Fifteen of Florida’s 67 counties now use paperless touch-screen voting machines.