Modest Win for Bush…

…But More Tests Lie Ahead: “On the plus side for Mr. Bush, the bipartisan agreement among 14 centrist senators expressly called for up-or-down votes on three of his nominees to federal appeals court seats, all but ensuring their confirmations, though it left in limbo the fate of two more.

By explicitly exempting from the agreement two additional judges opposed by Democrats, it did not meet Mr. Bush’s oft-stated demand that all his nominees get a vote, and it did not foreclose the possibility that Democrats could block an eventual nominee to the Supreme Court, a matter of intense concern to the White House. The split-the-baby outcome, moreover, did little to resolve a rolling series of challenges to Mr. Bush that in coming days and weeks could do much to set the tone for his second four years in office.

On Tuesday, the House is to vote on a bill that would defy Mr. Bush and lift restrictions on federal financing of stem-cell research, legislation that stands a good chance of passing.

In the days and weeks that follow, Congress will confront a proposed trade agreement with Central America, the confirmation of Mr. Bush’s embattled choice as to be ambassador to the United Nations, an effort to rein in government spending and the first legislative steps toward overhauling Social Security – all topics on which Mr. Bush faces excruciatingly close votes in Congress, where Democrats are generally united against him and his own party is splintering around the edges.

Although the deal on judges announced by the 14 senators fell well short of the principle set out by Mr. Bush that all nominees get a vote on the Senate floor, the White House said it viewed the development as positive. Mr. Bush has always tried to create an atmosphere within the White House that takes the day-to-day bumps in stride and focuses on winning in the long run.

But Monday evening’s partial victory was hardly a display of overwhelming political strength. Beyond the judicial nominations, administration officials and their outside advisers recognize that the convergence of so many high-stakes issues in such a short period will shape public perceptions of Mr. Bush’s power at a time when his approval ratings are already lackluster and his signature domestic initiative, remaking Social Security, is in trouble.

To some degree, the confluence of disparate issues is coincidence. But in another way it is the logical consequence of Mr. Bush’s decision to expend his political capital, as he put it immediately after his re-election, to push through initiatives that he suggested voters had endorsed by putting him back in the White House. ” (New York Times news analysis )