Ted Cruz has sparked outcry after the Republican senator from Texas left the state for a trip to the sunny Mexican tourist resort of Cancún, as millions of his constituents endure deadly power outages and freezing temperatures.
Cruz was spotted waiting for, then later boarding, a flight to Cancún on Wednesday night. After photos of Cruz on the plane went viral on Twitter, prompting fierce criticism, the senator planned to fly back to the US on Thursday.
On Thursday afternoon, more than 12 hours after Cruz was sighted, the senator made a statement, claiming he had taken the nearly 1,000-mile flight to Cancún merely to accompany his daughters on the plane.
Cruz’s statement contradicted reports that the senator, who appeared to be accompanied by his wife, had originally been booked to return on Saturday, before hastily changing his flight on Thursday morning.
He also called the deadly emergency that has affected millions “an infuriating week for Texans”.
Meanwhile, text messages obtained by the New York Times appeared to show the trip had been planned at short notice. Messages repeatedly sent by Cruz’s wife, Heidi, described their house as “FREEZING” and invited others on a group message thread to join them at the Ritz-Carlton in Cancún.
The morality of Cruz’s Mexican sojourn, came under further scrutiny when it was reported that Cruz directed police to help him travel through Houston airport.
A photo shared on Twitter on Wednesday sparked sustained outrage at Cruz, seemingly traveling with his wife, Heidi Cruz, waiting to board a flight to Cancún. Others purportedly showed Cruz sitting on the plane.
As news of the vacation broke Cruz, normally a prolific tweeter, remained silent, but behind the scenes the senator changed his plans and scrambled to return to his besieged state, the New York Times reported.
Cruz’s statement, issued from Mexico, contradicted the reporting of the Times, and multiple other outlets.
“With school cancelled for the week, our girls asked to take a trip with friends,” Cruz said.
“Wanting to be a good dad, I flew down with them last night and am flying back this afternoon.”
Cruz said he and his staff were in “constant communication with state and local leaders” about the crisis in Texas.
A journalist for the travel news outlet Skift had earlier reported that Cruz was originally due to return on Saturday, but had booked a flight at 6am on Thursday, to return that day.
The Cancún trip comes as millions of Texans remain without power after a snowstorm swept through parts of the state.
People in Austin and Houston have spent days coping with blackouts and in some cases a lack of running water, as subzero temperatures grip the region. Hours-long queues have formed at grocery stores as people try to find food, and at least 20 people have died.
Emergency services have faced being overwhelmed by the storm, and were further stretched when Cruz’s team requested Houston police aide him as he arrived at the city’s Houston Bush Airport.
“Cruz’s staff contacted [Houston police department] personnel at [Houston airport] on Wednesday … and requested assistance upon the Senator’s arrival at the airport,” police told ABC News.
“HPD officers monitored his movements through the terminal.”
Photos showed Cruz, a prominent rightwing supporter of Donald Trump who opposed the former president’s most recent impeachment, dressed in casual attire at the airport and wearing a face mask he has been spotted wearing in Washington. It reads: “Come and take it.”
Cruz now faces criticism of hypocrisy after he had urged Texans to “just stay home” during a radio interview on Monday, as the winter storm approached the state. In December Cruz attacked Stephen Adler, the Democratic mayor of Austin, for taking a trip to Cabo San Lucas, in Mexico, during the coronavirus pandemic.
The Texas Democratic party called on Cruz, who was narrowly re-elected to the US Senate in 2018, to resign after news of the Cancún trip broke, while Gene Wu, a Democratic Texas state representative, was among those to criticize Cruz on Twitter.
“Guess which US Senator from Texas flew to Cancún while the state was freezing to death and having to boil water?” Wu wrote.
On Thursday, protesters gathered outside of his home also called on him to resign.
“Hey hey, ho ho, Ted Cruz has got to go,” they chanted.