Today, there is a showdown of monumental proportions taking place in the United States Senate.

Unfortunately, most Americans are completely unaware this showdown is taking place. It is the vote to end the four-week filibuster that has prevented a confirmation vote on Miguel Estrada, the man President Bush nominated for the D.C. Court of Appeals.

If you go out on the street and ask the first dozen people you meet, “Who is Miguel Estrada?” you will be hard-pressed to find one or two people who can answer that question.

Why?

The news has been consumed by the war against terrorism, the possibility of the invasion of Iraq, the threat posed by North Korea and the state of the economy. It takes a mighty big story to break into that foursome and the sad truth is the new Republican Senate leaders have not been willing to do what it takes to make the Estrada filibuster a newsworthy event.

It is important to understand that the old-fashioned filibuster of the ’50s and ’60s went by the boards when the rule to invoke cloture – the process of ending debate – was changed in 1975, from requiring a vote of two-thirds of those present, to a vote of three-fifths of all senators.

In the old days, if the Senate was held in session around the clock, the party wishing to block a vote had to be present because 51 senators are necessary to constitute a quorum. However, now that three-fifths of all 100 senators (60) must give their approval to end debate, it is no longer necessary for those wishing to hold up a vote to even be present.

Nobody said that breaking this filibuster would be easy. The way Senate rules are written, it is next to impossible to break one without some backroom deals – and Democrat leaders are not willing to deal.

Democrats view Republicans as pushovers – and why not? While Democrats know how to play hardball, Republicans are infected with terminal niceness. Think about it. In the last half century, in the over 12 years that Republicans have controlled the Senate, they haven’t gone to the mat on anything. They simply don’t know how to fight from the leadership position.

If Republicans had been in control of the Senate when Bush 41 nominated Clarence Thomas, he likely never would have made it to the Supreme Court!

It is little wonder that the radical Democrat leaders in the Senate simply have decided that they are not going to let this president put conservatives on the bench. They aren’t about to budge! Why should they when only a few political activists on each side are even paying attention?

Unfortunately, prior to today’s cloture vote, Republican leaders ran up the white flag of surrender by moving off their position of forcing the Democrats to debate Estrada – and only Estrada – until the Dems were willing to give in and allow this man a vote.

However, the effort to force Democrats to debate Estrada was half-hearted at best. The Senate’s new majority leader, Bill Frist, was unwilling to keep the Senate in session 24-7 and to order the sergeant-at-arms to round up absent senators. He even let them out the weekend before the Presidents’ Day recess, after threatening to keep the Senate in session. He not only appeared weak, he lost valuable time.

Senate leaders then called on conservative groups to pound senators in swing states. In short, Frist and his lieutenants were asking conservative activists to do the heavy lifting they were unwilling to do themselves.

Meanwhile, the clock is ticking for Saddam Hussein and Frist knows – and Democrats know – once the bombs start falling in Iraq, he no longer will be able to get the public’s attention with Estrada, even by having his party answer quorum calls in their pajamas in the middle of the night. He has lost that opportunity.

If today’s cloture vote fails, Frist will go on to other matters, he now deems more pressing. Meanwhile, he will have put those Democrats still in the undecided column “on record,” presumably so conservative activists can go out and work them over for him while he and his buddies continue to “play nice” with the obstructionists.

Candidates for the federal bench do not get any more attractive than Miguel Estrada. He is a Hispanic with an impressive, squeaky-clean record, who has the backing of five former solicitors general from both political parties and is rated “well qualified” by the American Bar Association.

He is a candidate that every honest Democrat would have to love. That is why Republicans must get him confirmed. If they fail, they haven’t a prayer of getting any conservative nominee approved. They might as well pack it in.

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