While Texans struggle to keep warm amid power outages caused by historic winter weather, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) was spotted Wednesday boarding a plane for Cancun with members of his family.
Photographs from multiple sources showed Cruz in a mask standing in the boarding area for a United flight at Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport with luggage, and then on the plane itself holding a passport ― sparking instant derision on social media.
In a statement issued early Thursday afternoon, the senator admitted to traveling for pleasure.
“Like millions of Texans, our family lost heat and power, too,” Cruz said. Because his daughters’ school was canceled due to the weather, Cruz and his wife, Heidi, decided to allow them to take “a trip with friends.”
“Wanting to be a good dad, I flew down with them last night and am flying back this afternoon,” he said. Given the ongoing threat of the coronavirus, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises against nonessential travel to most areas of the world, including Mexico.
Later, speaking to reporters, he conceded that he had originally intended to stay with his family “through the weekend” but cut the plan short after realizing it was received badly back home. Text messages obtained by The New York Times also cast doubt on Cruz’s suggestion that the trip came at the urging of his daughters or their friends.
Cruz assured constituents that he and members of his staff have been “in constant communication with state and local leaders to get to the bottom of what happened in Texas.”
“I have to admit, I started having second thoughts almost the moment I sat down on the plane,” he told local news reporters outside his Houston home Thursday evening. He continued: “Because on the one hand, all of us who are parents have a responsibility to take care of our kids, take care of our family. That’s something Texans have been doing across the state. But I also have a responsibility that I take very seriously of fighting for the state of Texas, and leaving when so many Texans were hurting didn’t feel right.”
He added: “Look, it was obviously a mistake.”
Cruz explained how ― after being one of the last homes in his wealthy neighborhood to have power ― the lights went dark for two days, eventually leading to his family needing to gather by their fireplace for warmth.
“We were trying to be good parents and we said, OK, we’ll do it,” Cruz said.
Details about the trip began to emerge in the early hours of Thursday morning. A passenger identified as “CRU, R.” was spotted on the list of people waiting to upgrade seats for the United flight to Cancun. (The senator’s full name is Rafael Edward Cruz.) Internet sleuths pointed to a long list of consistencies between the pictures purportedly taken on the plane to Cancun and photos of the senator, including a matching face mask, glasses, luggage, shoes and a ring.
Then, a “CRU, R.” was spotted on a list of passengers awaiting the same upgrade on a flight from Cancun back to Houston.
Cruz was later seen making his way through the airport amid a flurry of cameras.
Cruz has vacationed at the resort town in the past ― but not while people across his home state scramble for potable water and food during a pandemic that has already strapped state resources. Temperatures plunged to below zero across Texas all week, and even more winter weather is now bearing down on the South.
The situation facing the Cruz family has been playing out with more terrible consequences all across the state for days.
The day he left, nearly 3 million Texas households were still without power, although the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, the state’s grid operator, says it has now restored power to many of them.
Images posted to social media show the aftermath of pipes bursting in the extreme cold, flooding homes and businesses that are not well-equipped for it.
As freezing temperatures persist, authorities have been warning people that improvised heating with gas can have deadly consequences.
Earlier this week, a woman and girl died in Houston from carbon monoxide poisoning after sitting in a running car parked in a garage while trying to keep warm. Similar incidents have sent people to the hospital, and a grandmother and three children died in a house fire while their neighborhood was without power. Others in the state have frozen to death outdoors.
At least one person, a man in his 60s, froze to death inside his Central Texas home, which had been without power for three days. His wife was found in need of urgent medical attention. Another person from the area died at a medical facility after a lack of water pressure prevented staff from performing necessary care, authorities said Thursday.
Cruz was well aware of the danger to his constituents and even advised them not to go out.
“If you can stay home, don’t go out on the roads. Don’t risk the ice,” he said in a radio interview Monday. “We could see up to 100 people lose their lives this week in Texas, so don’t risk it. Keep your family safe. Just stay home and hug your kids.”
The Texas Democratic Party is now once again calling on the senator to resign.
“Ted Cruz jetting off to Mexico while Texans remain dying in the cold isn’t surprising, but it is deeply disturbing and disappointing,” party chair Gilberto Hinojosa said in a statement on Thursday. “Cruz is emblematic of what the Texas Republican Party and its leaders have become: weak, corrupt, inept and self-serving politicians who don’t give a damn about the people they were elected to represent. They were elected by the people but have no interest or intent of doing their jobs.”
Meanwhile, Cruz’s Republican allies are offering increasingly absurd defenses of his brief jaunt to the Mexican beach town, arguing that the former presidential candidate was essentially powerless to help with his state’s energy crisis.
In a brief update on the statewide situation Wednesday, Gov. Greg Abbott (R) did not say when all Texans could expect to see power restored. The situation has put hospitals on edge as dwindling reserves of potable water has forced doctors to transfer patients, according to the Texas Tribune.
Experts say that Texas ― which runs largely on fossil fuels ― never winterized much of its power-generating equipment, failing to plan for extreme weather that is increasingly more common due to climate change.
Unlike most states, Texas is powered almost entirely by its own power grid. The rest of the continental United States is powered by massive East Coast and West Coast grids that are subject to federal oversight.
Lee Moran contributed reporting.