The Note: Quacking to the Finish: Immigration Devastates Bush

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Immigration reform is dead (again), this time for good (we think), and President Bush almost looked like he was ready to pack it in for the rest of his presidency in the wake of that Senate vote. But he actually had a pretty good day yesterday.

Consider the other big headline out of Washington -- the Supreme Court ruling sharply limiting school districts' use of race in school assignments. Say what you will about the opinion (and the Democratic candidates had plenty to say about it last night), but it's now clear that the president has gotten exactly what he wanted out of his two picks for the high court. Conservatives now have a working (though sometimes tenuous) 5-4 majority on the court, and their four most reliable votes include the court's three youngest members. If Bush was looking for a domestic legacy, he has found it.

But does the right want to win all of these battles? As they well know, the makeup of the Supreme Court is a great political issue -- but victories for conservatives could fire up liberals, making a toxic environment for Republicans even worse next year. The Democratic presidential candidates never looked as united as they did last night at Howard University, when the court ruling -- coupled with Hurricane Katrina, healthcare, and tax cuts for the rich -- allowed Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., to summarize: "It is hard to disagree with anything that has been said."

The PBS debate provided few meaningful distinctions between the eight candidates, notwithstanding the occasional bombs lobbed by former Alaska senator Mike Gravel. "The foreign policy flash points that had produced conflict between the Democrats at their earlier debates -- in particular, the war in Iraq -- were largely absent as the candidates spoke easily, finishing one another's sentences and offering jokes and compliments," The New York Times' Adam Nagourney and Jeff Zeleny write.

ABC's Teddy Davis and Tahman Bradley highlight the broad agreement on the stage, particularly over the court ruling, but also point out that Clinton came pretty close to endorsing a tax increase when she cited Warren Buffet's criticism of the cap on Social Security taxes. "That's a lot of money between $95,000 and the $46 million that Warren Buffet made last year," she said. "So yes, we have to change the tax system." (Responded Clinton strategist Mark Penn after the debate, "It's not ruled in or out.")

Takeaways from the debate? The crowd loved Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., and he got better as the night went on, though he still hasn't quite got the debate thing down. (He connected with the largely black crowd, but when he received delayed applause on one line, it was almost as if the audience heard so few specifics that they didn't realize he was done with his answer.) Former senator John Edwards, D-N.C., made the most of his chances to talk poverty, and all the candidates squeezed in 60-second versions of their stump speeches.

But Clinton was crisp, concise, and in control yet again -- while scoring the only standing ovation of the evening. "Her performance Thursday night was so good it should help her cement her lead in polls of the race nationally," writes Des Moines Register columnist David Yepsen. "In Iowa, where she's not been doing as well as she is across the country, it should help her break away from Barack Obama and try to overtake John Edwards." ABC's Kate Snow takes an interesting look at "Hillaryland" -- the women behind the Clinton campaign.

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