Politics

Sen. Ted Cruz flies home after furor over Cancun trip during Texas deep freeze

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Key Points
  • Sen. Ted Cruz sparked widespread outrage for flying from Houston to Cancun, Mexico, for a family vacation even as millions of his fellow Texans froze because of historically low temperatures and widespread power outages.
  • Thousands of Twitter posts blasted Cruz for the ill-timed jaunt after photos circulated online of him at a Houston airport waiting to board the flight Wednesday afternoon, and then onboard the plane.
  • "With school cancelled for the week, our girls asked 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," Cruz said.
VIDEO2:3502:35
Sen. Ted Cruz flies back to Texas earlier than planned amid backlash over Cancun trip

"Flyin' "Ted Cruz has landed.

Cruz, the Republican senator from Texas, sparked outrage on Thursday for flying from Houston to Cancun, Mexico, for a family vacation even as millions of his fellow Texans froze because of a huge winter storm and widespread power outages.

Thousands of Twitter posts blasted Cruz for the ill-timed jaunt after photos circulated online of him at a Houston airport and then onboard a plane Wednesday afternoon.

The Texas Democratic Party, among others, demanded that Cruz resign from the Senate.

U.S. Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) carries his luggage at the Cancun International Airport before boarding his plane back to the U.S., in Cancun, Mexico February 18, 2021.
Stringer | Reuters

After hours of the senator's staff refusing to confirm his whereabouts, Cruz finally copped to being in Cancun, where temperatures were in the mid-80s. He later told reporters that he had "second thoughts" about leaving the state the moment he sat down in the plane in Houston on Wednesday.

He said that his two daughters, who are 12 and 10 years old, had asked him and his wife to take them to Mexico after the Cruz family themselves lost electrical power.

Images purportedly showing Ted Cruz board a United Airlines Flight to Cancun, Mexico from Houston, TX.
Source: @Ian McBride via Twitter

"It was obviously a mistake and in hindsight, I wouldn't have done it,"Cruz told reporters after flying back by himself from Cancun to Houston, where the temperatures were just above freezing.

"I was trying to be a dad."

Cruz also said," Of course I understand why people are upset."

"Listen, we're in a strange time where Twitter's been going crazy and the media is going crazy and there's a lot of venom and vitriol that I think is unfortunate frankly on both sides I think everyone ought to treat each other with respect and decency and try to understand each other more particularly in a time of crisis," he added.

VIDEO2:4502:45
Sen. Ted Cruz explains his trip to Cancun

Cruz said that his original "plan had been to stay the weekend with the family."

He said the past year had been tough on his children, as on other Americans, and that it got tougher earlier in the week when the family lost power after opening their home to some friends who had previously lost electrical power in their own houses.

"The power went out as soon as we were sitting down to dinner," he said.

"By the second day, we were clustered around the fireplace as the only source of heat," Cruz said.

His daughters eventually asked, "How about we take a trip? Let's go somewhere where it's not so cold," Cruz recounted.

"We were trying to be good parents," he added.

Cruz said, "I started having second thoughts" about the trip "almost the moment I sat down on the plane."

"Because on the one hand all of us who are parents have a responsibility to take care of our kids, take care of our families, that's something Texans have been doing across the state," Cruz said.

But I also have a responsibility that I take very seriously of fighting for the state of Texas. And, frankly, leaving when so many Texans were hurting didn't feel right. And so I changed my return flight, and I flew back on the first available flight."

Cruz said, "It had been my intention to be able to work remotely to be on the phone to be on internet to be on zoom to be engaged, but I needed to be here."

"And that's why I came back, and then as it became a bigger and bigger firestorm ... it became more all the more compelling that I needed to come back because our priority should be fixing this problem," he said.

"And I didn't want all the screaming and yelling about this trip to distract even one moment from the real issues."

Cruz said he would "continue to work to get the power back on."

"What's happening in Texas is unacceptable and a lot of Texans are hurting," Cruz said.

U.S. Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) speaks to the media at the Cancun International Airport before boarding his plane back to the U.S., in Cancun, Mexico February 18, 2021.
Stringer | Reuters

Cruz arrived at the Cancun airport to leave Thursday with a man wearing a polo shirt that indicated he was an employee of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Cancun.

That man accompanied Cruz as he headed to his departure gate.

The Ritz-Carlton's website notes that it is "a five-star, oceanfront retreat in the heart of Cancun."

"Perfectly positioned on the Yucatan Peninsula, The Ritz-Carlton, Cancun seamlessly fuses coastal luxury with the region's rich cultural legacy," that site says.

"Immerse yourself with sensorial experiences that range from cooking lessons to mixology classes by the pool. This five-star hotel also offers celebrated dining, indigenous spa rituals and a 27,000-sq-ft conference center."

"Soak up the sun on the best beach in Mexico," the site says. Rooms for four at the hotel cost at least $410 per night, according to its reservation system.

Hotel Ritz Carlton, Cancun
Peter Bischoff | Getty Images

Two days before the trip, Cruz retweeted a post from the Federal Emergency Management Agency that said, "Are you looking for a place to stay warm during this freezing weather?" The post contained links for warming centers in Texas.

A source close to Cruz said that the senator, following federal health guidelines, took a Covid-19 test and received a negative result before his planned flight back to the United States. 

In a statement before he departed home, Cruz said, "My staff and I are in constant communication with state and local leaders to get to the bottom of what happened in Texas."

"We want our power back, our water on, and our homes warm. My team and I will continue using all our resources to keep Texans informed and safe."

Images purportedly showing Ted Cruz with Heidi Cruz (circled) board a United Airlines Flight to Cancun, Mexico from Houston, TX.
Source: @Ian McBride via Twitter

A Houston Police Department spokesman told NBC News that Cruz's staff asked the department on Wednesday afternoon to assist Cruz in his arrival and movements through George Bush Intercontinental Airport, where there was a scheduled flight at 4:44 p.m. local time to Cancun.

The Dallas Morning News reported that the mask seen on the senator that day was the same one Cruz wore during last month's inauguration of President Joe Biden, and during last week's Senate impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump.

The mask has the image of a black cannon and the words "'Come and Take It,' a design reminiscent of flags used by Texans during the 1835 revolution against Mexico – a provocative choice, given the destination," the newspaper noted.

VIDEO2:3102:31
Millions of Texas residents remain without power amid historic winter weather

The Texas Democratic Party castigated Cruz in a statement demanding he resign his seat or be expelled from the Senate.

"In the middle of one of the worst crises in Texas history, Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz jetted off to Cancun, Mexico. His constituents in Texas remain trapped in the cold, without clean water, heat, or warm food. 37 of them have died," the party said in a statement.

"This is what we've come to expect from Texas Republican leadership. They are self-serving, inept, corrupt politicians who think that being in office entitles them to do whatever they want."

White Houses press secretary Jen Psaki took a sharp crack at Cruz when asked about his trip by reporters at a news conference.

"I don't have any updates on the exact location of Sen. Ted Cruz, nor does anyone at the White House, but our focus is on working directly with leadership in Texas and the surrounding states on addressing the winter storm and the crisis at hand," Psaki said.

"We expect that would be the focus of anyone in the state, or surrounding states, who was elected to represent them," she added.

Former Rep. Beto O'Rourke, a Democrat who lost a close Senate election to Cruz in 2018, during an interview Thursday on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" noted that Cruz "is vacationing in Cancun right now when people are literally freezing to death in the state that he was elected to represent and serve."

Julian Castro, the former San Antonio mayor who served as secretary of the U.S. Housing and Urban Development Department, tweeted, "In crises like these, members of Congress play a critical role connecting their constituents to emergency services and assistance."

Cruz "should be on the phone with federal agencies, not on a trip to Mexico," Castro wrote.

On Tuesday, just a day before he flew to Mexico, Cruz was roasted on Twitter and elsewhere for having mocked California's own power outages months ago.

In response, Cruz tweeted that day, "I got no defense. A blizzard strikes Texas & our state shuts down. Not good."

In December, Cruz criticized Democratic officials who did not follow their own coronavirus pandemic restrictions, among them Steve Adler, mayor of Austin, Texas, who himself flew to Mexico for his daughter's wedding in November even as he urged his city's residents to stay home.

"Hypocrites. Complete and utter hypocrites," Cruz wrote in his Dec. 2 tweet.

In July, photos showing Cruz without a mask on during an American Airlines flight and at an airport gate were widely reported.

The person who took the photos, who worked for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, noted that American Airlines policy required travelers to wear facial coverings.

Cruz's spokeswoman claimed at the time that Cruz had temporarily removed his mask to drink coffee.

Trump, while running against Cruz in the 2016 Republican presidential nomination contests, regularly used the scornful nickname "Lyin' Ted" when talking about him.

Cruz later became an ardent Trump supporter, and last month unsuccessfully tried to get Congress to reject the confirmation of Biden's Electoral College victories in several states.

That confirmation process was interrupted Jan. 6 by the invasion of the Capitol complex by thousands of supporters of Trump. Five people, including a Capitol police office, died as a result of that riot.

-- CNBC's Kevin Breuninger contributed to this report.