Morning Joe, 9/20/13, 7:01 AM ET

Cruz faces GOP backlash for leaving Obamacare fight

The House is expected to vote Friday on a stopgap spending bill to keep the government running while undercutting Obamacare. The White House has vowed to...

Republicans cornered in anti-Obamacare scheme

Updated

House Republicans said they’d do exactly what Sens. Ted Cruz from Texas and Mike Lee from Utah goaded them to do—vote for a budget that defunds Obamacare, a move that would effectively shut down the government—only to find that Cruz and Lee were jumping ship.

“All summer long as these ads have been running, as they’ve been holding town halls and raising money, we’ve kept a lid on our anger in the House as we were the punching bag and bullied by some of these Senate conservatives,” Republican Rep. Sean Duffy said on Morning Joe. “What I see happening now is people coming out and calling them out for the hypocrisy of these big, tough conservatives who know how to fight but will never get in the ring.”

After months of leading the charge to defund Obamacare through the budget, Lee and Cruz are backing away from their own plan.

“Shutdowns are bad, shutdowns are not worth it, this law is not worth causing a shut down over,” Lee said at a press conference on Thursday, just a day after House Speaker John Boehner caved to Tea Party demands to pass a continuing resolution that would keep the government running only if Obamacare’s funds were dismantled. Duffy will vote to defund the healthcare law, joining dozens of House colleagues who had been publicly bullied for months by senators and ads urging them to defund the healthcare law.

The Senate Conservatives Fund has been paying for ads—some of them even staring Cruz and Lee—prodding Republicans into voting to defund the bill.

“And then the House does exactly what they say they should do and then they surrender!” Morning Joe host Joe Scarborough said with exasperation.

Conservatives responded viciously, calling Cruz an amateur. (“They’re not the only one saying that,” Scarborough said.)

“I didn’t go to Harvard or Princeton but I can count,” Tennessee Republican Sen. Bob Corker tweeted, dissing Cruz who attended both institutions.

To further complicate the GOP’s civil war, efforts to defund Obamacare through a budget don’t stand a chance—Democrats control the Senate and wouldn’t pass a budget that cripples President Obama’s healthcare reform. And even if they had, Obama would never sign it. The move would, however, shut down the government.

“Sens. Cruz, Lee and [Florida’s Marco] Rubio are like the kids in high school who would yell fight, fight, fight, but have never thrown a punch in their entire life,” a Senior House Republican aide told NBC News.

The GOP plan to end President Obama’s signature piece of legislation remains largely symbolic and a dangerous strategy with slim chances that Senate Democrats would be willing to negotiate. But despite the bruising from bullying and party infighting, Duffy said House Republicans will continue to press forward.

“We think we can engage in a fight here where we have a solution that’s negotiated where both sides can win,” Duffy said. “Maybe not to defund it but get the president to agree to a delay in Obamacare, maybe he’ll agree to an opt-out in a state strategy we’ll offer him, I think there’s enough play here with Obamacare and some form of delay where we can all be winners.”

Duffy said he knows shutting down the government is a bad idea.

“If we shut the government down we’re not on the side of Americans,” he said, but believes it’s a fire worth playing with, in hopes of motivating the president to negotiate.

“That is what Ted Cruz is trying to desperately to do and I think he’s in a corner,” Scarborough concluded.

Republicans cornered in anti-Obamacare scheme

Updated