Boehner challenges Cruz to ‘pick up mantle’ on Obamacare fight

September 19, 2013
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio). Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) joined other Republican lawmakers in calling for Senate conservatives to put up a strong fight against President Obama's health-care law.

"It's time for them to pick up the mantle and get the job done," Boehner told reporters Thursday, responding to questions about comments from Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.).

Cruz has spent two months agitating Republicans in the House and Senate to risk shutting down the federal government in the effort to strip funding for implementing Obamacare. After Boehner announced Wednesday his intention to take that risky strategy, Cruz issued a statement that Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) likely had the votes to strip that language in the Senate and said it was up to House Republicans to "stand firm" when the legislation bounces back across the Capitol to them.

This angered many House Republicans, who felt that Cruz was setting them up to take the political fall if there's a shutdown over a strategy he had been demanding they take.

Even junior House Republicans lashed out. On Thursday night, Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Tex.), a second-term fellow Texan, issued a statement addressed to Cruz: "Don't give up."

After Boehner spoke Thursday, Reid vowed to strike the health-care provision – as Cruz has predicted — and blamed the speaker for giving in to the pressure from the Texas Republican and other outside conservative organizations. "Any bill that defunds Obamacare is dead — dead. It’s a waste of time,” Reid told reporters.

“Ted Cruz must know something. When he kicked the ball back to the House, that was pretty interesting,” Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said. “The House Republicans are mad at him. He started this whole thing and now he’s saying this is your hot potato, I’m not touching it.”

When asked later Thursday about Boehner's remarks, Cruz told reporters, "I will do everything necessary and anything possible to defund Obamacare."

Pressed about whether he would mount a filibuster, Cruz said: "Yes, and anything else, any procedural means necessary. Listen, this is the most important fight in the country."

"What we need to do is we need to be making the case every day in every way to the American people, not about the petty political bickering. Americans don't care about petty political bickering in Washington. But on the substance. And I'll tell you this — if and when we win this fight, it is going to be because House Republicans have stood up and showed the courage that they are showing right now."

Cruz spoke alongside Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and seven of the most conservative House Republicans, who thanked Boehner for orchestrating Friday's scheduled House vote and Cruz and Lee's plans to carry on the push in the Senate.

Reporters pressed the group to clarify whether there was any lingering doubts amid conservative lawmakers about their strategy.

Rep. Tom Graves (R-Ga.) sought to allay any doubts: "We are unified behind funding the government and stopping the harmful effects of Obamacare, 100 percent unified," he said.

"We have 11 days to keep a laser-like focus on accomplishing this objective and we will not be distracted," Graves added.

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Ed O'Keefe | September 19, 2013