"The fight here has been won. The fight over there is just beginning," Boehner told reporters. "I expect my Senate colleagues to do everything they can to stop this law. It's time for them to pick up the mantle and get the job done."
The House will pass Friday a government spending bill that defunds the 2010 health care reform law, Boehner said. It's not the bill that Boehner wanted to pass. But his original plan for a two-pronged vote, which would have allowed the Senate to strip the defund Obamacare language and keep the government running without a risk of shutdown, was stymied by a revolt from the rightwing of the GOP, spurred on in part by Cruz.
Now the House is passing a spending bill that greatly increases the possibility of a government shutdown. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said Thursday that it was "dead" upon reaching the Senate floor.
But the frustration for Boehner and other House conservatives is that Cruz has already been signaling defeat in his chamber.
"Harry Reid will no doubt try to strip the defund language from the continuing resolution, and right now he likely has the votes to do so," Cruz said in a joint statement Wednesday with Lee and Sen. Marco Rubio (FL). "At that point, House Republicans must stand firm, hold their ground, and continue to listen to the American people."
That apparent concession fueled a harsh response from House Republicans.
"This is outrageous. They demand a fight for two months, supposedly on behalf of the grassroots and constituents and then within hours of getting the fight, they slink away, abandon those same people and do nothing," a senior House GOP aide told TPM. "They have failed every test of leadership."
Some House members, like Rep. Sean Duffy (R-WI), went on the record with their displeasure.
"Today, Senator Ted Cruz & United States Senator Mike Lee called on House Republicans to 'stand firm, hold their ground, and continue to listen to the American people' on defunding #Obamacare," Duffy wrote on Facebook. "House Republicans have stood firm. We have voted to defund, repeal & delay #Obamacare dozens of times. It is time for Sens. Cruz & Lee to show they can hold the line against Senate Democrats."
"Let's hope they do not surrender before the fight even begins," Duffy wrote.
Boehner's Thursday comments could be seen as both a clear message to Cruz and Lee that they must wage war in the upper chamber after House Republicans have committed to the cause -- and as Boehner's chance to do to Cruz what Cruz has been doing to House leaders for days. What's good for the goose is good for the gander.
After Boehner's remarks, Cruz and Lee continued to place the responsibility for a defunding measure on Reid, even though the Senate majority leader had already pronounced the House bill dead on arrival in the Senate.
"It's going to be in Harry Reid's court," Cruz told reporters Thursday. Lee indicated that Senate Republicans wanted Reid to give them an up-or-down vote on the House bill.
"We demand, we expect, we hope to have an up-or-down vote, so people in that body can have an opportunity to weigh in," Lee told reporters.
But the sniping from the lower chamber might be making an impression on the senators. Asked about Boehner's comments and what he was willing to do to stop the law, Cruz left all the options on the table, including a talking filibuster to stall the bill on the Senate floor.
"I will do everything necessary and anything possible to defund Obamacare," Cruz said. Even a talking filibuster? "Yes, and anything else. Any procedural means necessary."
Sahil Kapur contributed to this report.