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Sunday, December 4, 2016

Nov. 14 (Bloomberg View) — House Speaker John Boehner’s magic lawsuit against President Barack Obama is back! And he’s considering whether to try to use it to solve his immigration problem.

Initially, the suit was intended to address a real issue for the Speaker and his party: Many Republicans were fed up with the normal frustrations of separated institutions sharing powers under divided government. Their answer was to take dramatic – but counterproductive – action, such as impeaching the president.

The lawsuit was Boehner’s solution. It was enough of a radical gesture that Republicans could feel they were doing something about the lawless Kenyan socialist in the Oval Office. But, unlike impeachment or shutting down the government, it wasn’t so radical that it would make Republicans sound like a bunch of crazy people to the 80 percent of the electorate that doesn’t get all its information from conservative talk radio.

One of the drawbacks, however, is that every precedent suggests the courts would dismiss the suit because the House doesn’t have standing to sue the president. The Republicans’ solution? Make a big fuss about the suit, even have the House vote to authorize it (thus allowing Republicans to claim they voted to Do Something about Obama), but neglect to actually file it.

The brilliance of this tactic is becoming obvious, because it turns out that the hypothetical lawsuit — which hasn’t been filed and dismissed — can be expanded to cover any new White House outrage. Magic!

So with Obama reportedly about to take executive action on immigration — which Republicans assume he has no authority to do based on their narrow, Obama-specific reading of presidential powers — Boehner once against needs to distract his cohorts from talking about impeachment or shutting down the government. Will the lawsuit do the trick? It just might.

By the way, frustration is inherent to the U.S. political system and normal political parties just try to make the best possible deal. Republicans, however, are faced with a rank and file that sees compromise as evil. And on several issues, including immigration, they don’t have a specific policy to articulate and fight for.

That is what makes magic lawsuits an ideal solution. The goal isn’t public policy; it’s expressions of outrage. And the job for Republican leaders isn’t to move public policy as close to their ideal as possible, it’s to find ways to channel the most potent expressions of outrage without hurting the party’s standing with voters.

I have no idea how long the magic lawsuit will work, but it succeeded admirably over the summer, and maybe it’s still potent enough for this immigration situation, too. And that’s also part of the reason Boehner continues to be an underrated Speaker of the House.

Photo: Talk Radio News Service via Flickr

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