Image: Sonia Sotomayor, Nancy Pelosi
Gerald Herbert  /  AP
Guests stand and applaud as Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor is acknowledged by President Barack Obama while he delivers remarks at the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute annual awards gala in Washington, on Wednesday. At left is House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
updated 9/16/2009 9:34:53 PM ET 2009-09-17T01:34:53

President Barack Obama, trying to calm critics and rally allies on his top domestic priority, told a Hispanic gathering on Wednesday that no one in the United States illegally would receive benefits under plans for a health care overhaul.

Speaking to a black-tie gala for the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute, the president also promised action on immigration, although he left unspoken a timeline. During a star-studded night that included Jennifer Lopez and Marc Anthony, he also reminded the caucus that he successfully nominated Justice Sonia Sotomayor as the nation's first Latina member of the Supreme Court.

"Our own royalty, somebody who we have become so extraordinarily proud of, somebody who I've just come to adore, and who is somebody who's going to make us proud for many, many years to come, because she's not term-limited, the newest justice of the Supreme Court, Sonia Sotomayor," Obama said, bringing the room to its feet to applaud Sotomayor, who attended the dinner.

He said the proudest moment of his presidency was when Sotomayor took the bench.

"As she lifted her right hand to take the oath, our nation took one step closer to fully realizing the founding ideals that the court itself was established to defend. And across America, millions of children's sights are now set higher; their dreams are a little bigger. That benefits all of us."

But implicit in his message: Have patience with me.

‘We are all Americans’
Part rally for his agenda and part reminder to a key constituency, Obama's speech to a packed ballroom promised help for the Hispanic community and the nation more broadly. He said the problems Hispanics face cut across all communities, from crumbling schools to a devastated economy.

"Todos somos Americanos," Obama said. "We are all Americans."

The president — himself the first-generation son of an immigrant father — challenged the audience to work with him to deliver on campaign promises. It will take time, though.

"The American people did not send us to Washington to ignore problems just because they're tough," said Obama, whose campaign slogan of "Yes, We Can" borrowed from Cesar Chavez's "Si, Se Puede."

Echoing that pledge, Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told a cheering crowd that immigration overhaul and improvements in education would come.

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"All of you have made America more American," she said.

And before the president spoke, Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., told the crowd: "I know he's going to help us with comprehensive immigration reform."

Yet that priority — changing the nation's immigration system — is not yet the top priority of either the White House or the Democratic-led Congress.

‘Immigration system is broken’
To a quiet crowd, Obama told the audience that his health care plan would specifically exclude illegal immigrants. He ticked through the familiar talking points on health care, then added: "Even though I do not believe we should extend health coverage to those who are here illegally, I also don't simply believe we can ignore the fact that our immigration system is broken."

First, though, he has to win passage of a health care overhaul. In the interim, Obama highlighted early accomplishments since taking office in January.

He claimed he had hired more Hispanics in his administration than any other and pointed to senior members of his Cabinet, including Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and Labor Secretary Hilda Solis.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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