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Tea party declares war

The tea party responded in force to Speaker Boehner’s attacks, signaling that the establishment and tea party forces are entering an all-out war.
People stand for the national anthem at a Tea Party Patriots rally on the west lawn of the U.S. Capitol, Sept. 10, 2013.
People stand for the national anthem at a Tea Party Patriots rally on the west lawn of the U.S. Capitol, Sept. 10, 2013. 

The barbs continue to fly between House Speaker John Boehner and tea party groups—and the two sides appear to be entering an all-out war.

"The speaker's being absurd," Heritage Action CEO Michael Needham said Friday onThe Daily Rundown

On Thursday, Boehner blasted Needham -- but not by name -- for organizing the defund Obamacare ploy and later claiming the group knew all along it couldn't do away with the law altogether. “Frankly, I just think that they’ve lost all credibility,” Boehner said of the far-right conservative groups. "You know, they pushed us into this fight to defund Obamacare and to shut down the government. Most of you know, my members know, that wasn't exactly the strategy that I had in mind. But if you recall, the day before the government reopened, one of the people that -- one of these groups stood up and said, 'Well, we never really thought it would work.' Are you kidding me?"

Needham said Friday the group fought to defund and delay Obamacare, not repeal it. Congress controls just a small part of Obamacare's funding and most agreed during the debate that defunding the law wouldn't even have delayed it.

"What’s going on in Washington is that the speaker's trying to turn this into a boring fight between outside groups and himself, so we’re not having a debate on whether this deal is a good deal," Needham said.

It's the latest in the feistiest Republican brawl yet. On Tuesday, conservative advocacy groups came out against a recently unveiled budget agreement before congressional leaders even presented the details. Boehner lashed out and, in turn, the tea party responded on Thursday.

"Speaker Boehner thinks 'outside groups' are the problem?” Tea Party Patriots co-founder Jenny Beth Martin said in a statement Thursday. “Does he really think the American voters who are involved in the tea party, who got him elected, should not demand accountability of their elected representatives?”

A couple hours later, a bipartisan budget agreement brokered by Wisconsin Republican Rep. Paul Ryan and Washington Democratic Sen. Patty Murray sailed through the House of Representatives, passing 332-94 in a clear victory for Boehner and the establishment GOP.

But this war has been brewing for months. Following the government shutdown, establishment Republicans have made it clear they’re done cowing to tea party groups, and the tension has bubbled up from there. In early November, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell began speaking out against the sort of far-right groups that were targeting him in his tough re-election race for not being conservative enough. They “mislead for profit,” he told the Wall Street Journal.

This week, Boehner took up McConnell’s specter, declaring that the tea party groups are “using our members, and they’re using the American people for their own goals.”

“This is ridiculous,” the Boehner said Wednesday. On Thursday, he slammed the groups—referring to Needham without naming him—for dragging the GOP toward a shutdown during the fall, firing back “are you kidding me?” 

Having lost their ability to press the speaker toward hopeless goals like defunding Obamacare, tea party groups are going for the jugular—Boehner’s jugular.

"Mr. Speaker, continuously making promises and then breaking them is how you lose credibility with the American people,” Martin added. “Pitting your colleagues against their constituents is how you lose credibility with your conference.  Not upholding conservative principles is how you lose credibility with the voters who will find someone else if you are not willing to do your job."

"Speaker Boehner may not care about what fiscally conservative groups do, but grassroots Americans still care about what he's doing in Washington." FreedomWorks president Matt Kibbe said in a statement Thursday. "When it comes to 'credibility,' actions speak louder than words. And right now, it looks like the speaker is leading the charge for spending increases and recruiting Democrat votes in the House to help get it done. The math is not that complicated.”

But Boehner seems unfazed. 

“There just comes to a point when some people step over the line,” he told NBC News.