Ted Cruz had a lot more success as John Boehner's lawyer than in his bid to defund Obamacare.
Fifteen years before the pair of high-profile Republicans tangled over legislative strategy about the budget and national debt, Cruz and Boehner worked together on the only case in recent memory in which House member sued a colleague.
When Boehner initiated the 1998 litigation against Democratic Rep. Jim McDermott, he was years away from becoming House speaker. Cruz, too, was a long way from winning a Senate seat from Texas and becoming the face of confrontation against the Obama administration over funding the Affordable Care Act.
But when Cruz took on the case of then-House Republican Conference Chairman John Boehner, he was a rising star in the conservative legal firmament. A debate champion in his Princeton days and magna cum laude graduate of Harvard Law School, Cruz served as a law clerk to a prominent federal appeals court judge. Then in 1996 he worked at the Supreme Court, as clerk the Chief Justice William Rehnquist, a conservative icon.
Novel Legal Case
Cruz's work with Boehner offered the possibility of publicity and notoriety. Boehner was taking an usual step by bringing a lawsuit against McDermott, a Washington state Democrat and leading critic of House Speaker Newt Gingrich.
Boehner had accidentally become embroiled in an ethics investigation of Gingrich instigated by House Democrats. It began when he was driving through Florida in December 1996. A local couple - who happened to be Democratic activists - picked up via police scanner Boehner's cell phone conversations with Republican leaders. Because of the sensitive nature of the ethics charges Republican leaders weren't supposed to be discussing the matter, and the couple wanted to prove Boehner was violating the rules.
Their tape found its way into the hands of McDermott, who was then the senior Democrat on the House Ethics committee. He then made the contents available to The New York Times and other news outlets.
In 1998 Boehner sued McDermott in federal court for invasion of privacy - with Cruz heading the litigation. Cruz was the public face of Boehner's lawsuit. At one point Cruz explained to The Seattle Times why Boehner was using campaign funds to bankroll his federal lawsuit against McDermott. Boehner had recently won permission from the Federal Election Commission and the House Ethics Committee to use campaign funds to pay his lawyers in the civil suit, an unprecedented action between two sitting members of Congress.
Boehner then wrote a fund-raising letter pleading for campaign contributions to help pay for the legal back-and-forth.
"Congressman McDermott has consistently attempted to delay the litigation and drive up the expense. It is reasonably expected that Congressman Boehner will use the means at his disposal to raise the funds to pursue this lawsuit," Cruz said at the time.
Career Ascents For Both
Cruz didn't stay with the case long. In 1999 he moved home to Texas to serve as a domestic policy advisor on Gov. George W. Bush's presidential campaign. He served in the Bush administration for a time at the Federal Trade Commission. He then became Texas's solicitor general, arguing nine cases before the Supreme Court. In 2012 he pulled off an upset victory in the Senate GOP primary against an establishment candidate.
And though long gone from Boehner's legal team, the litigation Cruz set in motion had legs. In the late 1990s Reps. Boehner and McDermott could not agree on a settlement, and the case wound its way through the courts for several years. The Supreme Court denied final review in 2008 and a federal district judge ordered McDermott to pay Boehner more than $1 million in legal fees.
While Cruz's career was on the ascent, Boehner faced a turbulent time in Congress. House Republicans lost five seats in the 1998 midterm elections, a result of their impeachment drive against President Bill Clinton. Gingrich resigned as speaker but House Republicans decided another leadership head had to roll - Boehner's. He lost his Republican Conference chairman post to a GOP rival, and reverted back to rank-and-file member.
But a determined Boehner clawed his way back up to the top. With Republicans still in charge of the House, two years later he became chairman of the Education and Workforce Committee. There he worked with ideological opposite Sen. Ted Kennedy to pass President George W. Bush's No Child Left Behind education law.
When Majority Leader Tom DeLay was indicted on Texas state campaign finance charges and had to relinquish his post, Boehner won the ensuing fight to succeed him. Relegated to minority leader after the Democrats' 2006 midterm sweeps, Boehner was an early and persistent critic of the Obama administration agenda. He led Republicans back to the House majority in 2010 with a stunning 63-seat pickup. As House speaker, he's now third-in-line of presidential succession.
The cell phone-taping episode is a little-remembered chapter in Speaker Boehner's bumpy but successful rise to the pinnacle of American political power. Now-Sen. Cruz played an instrumental role in pushing forward Boehner's lawsuit. It's safe to say their attorney-client relationship 15 years ago paid off well for both.
It's a far cry from recent weeks, when the two men were at each other's throats. Cruz led a band of hard-core House Republicans against Boehner's leadership, demanding defunding of Obamacare in exchange for a budget and debt ceiling agreement. Boehner, though, prevailed, pushing through a bill last week to reopen the government and raise the debt ceiling.