Obama backed a "pathway to legal status" and requirements that illegal immigrants pay a fine, get onto a waiting list and learn English. But he criticized the amnesty argument supported by many reform proponents, saying that "blanket" amnesty could only lead to more illegal immigration and is both unfair and unwise. He also criticized the new Arizona law, but acknowledged that without a working federal policy it is "understandable" that states will seek to fill the void with their own solutions.

The president is facing increasing pressure from reform proponents and activists who had hoped the issue would be a priority item for the Obama administration. It clearly has fallen to the bottom of the list behind healthcare reform, financial industry regulation and now the hot-button issue of energy on which Democrats are searching for consensus. Any attempt to strike a deal this year, and all the ugly backroom dealing that would result, would only make the unpopular Democratic majority more unpopular and with the Senate math, likely fail anyway. But the issue won't go away, the problem of illegal immigration continues to grow and so does the political pressure to address it.

Presumably all this talk will have to lead to action next year, by Democrats in a smaller majority in Congress or by a new GOP majority working with President Obama. It is hard to imagine bipartisanship coming back to life on such a toxic issue, but we can hope. The president did earn a stunning compliment after his speech today from a Christian conservative leader, Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention. Land said: “President Obama laid out the elements for an immigration policy that will mend the social fabric of our nation ... The president has acted like a statesman, not a politician. Statesmen are concerned with the next generation; politicians are concerned with the next election. It’s time for Congress to step up and be statesmen.”

returns on Tuesday, July 13. Please join my weekly video Q&A by sending your questions and comments to askab@thehill.com. Thank you.