Updated with Cruz comments at Cancun airport.
WASHINGTON — As 3 million Texans shivered in the dark, Sen. Ted Cruz jetted off to Cancun with his family, outed instantly by fellow vacationers and berated by critics for abandoning constituents during an epic statewide power crisis.
He spent just one night out of the country – not long enough for a sunburn, but plenty of time to get blistered.
Social media photos from Houston’s Bush Intercontinental Airport and aboard the flight to the sun-drenched beach resort flourished Wednesday evening. By Thursday, when temperatures along Mexico’s Caribbean coast were on track to hit 83 degrees, the pile-on was at full boil.
Detractors dusted off vintage Cruz comments denying the existence of climate change and decrying Democrats as coastal elites who care not a whit for the plight of ordinary Americans.
With Cancun, CancunCruz and FlyinTed (an homage to Donald Trump’s “Lyin’ Ted” epithet) trending online – along with “Heidi,” as in Heidi Cruz, his wife – the senator remained uncharacteristically silent overnight. Aides ignored inquiries about the uproar the boss’s getaway triggered until just after noon Thursday, when they revealed that he would fly back to Texas 24 hours after he left.
“People are going to say what they’re going to say. I’m a dad and just trying to be a good dad, and take care of my kids. I’m also a senator and working hard to fight for the state of Texas each and every day. I’ll keep doing that,” Cruz said Thursday in Cancun, just before boarding a flight back to Houston, in a video exclusively obtained by Al Dia and The Dallas Morning News.
Cruz’s comments, and a written statement issued by his office Thursday afternoon, left it unclear whether he had planned such a quick turnaround or abruptly changed his ticket as the condemnation mounted.
He told an NBC/Telemundo crew in Cancun that his daughters asked on Wednesday for a trip, suggesting a scramble to buy tickets, pack and catch a 4:45 p.m. flight the same day.
“Millions of Texans have lost power, have lost heat, and have been hurt. Our family was among them. We had no heat and no power. And yesterday my daughters asked if they could take a trip with some friends. And Heidi and I agreed so I flew down with them last night,” Cruz said. “Dropped them off here and now I’m headed back to Texas.”
At the gate in Houston, he toted an expanded rolling bag that most travelers would consider far too big for one overnight, and too big for overhead stowage, plus a beach bag.
Returning stag Thursday afternoon, he had the same expanded rolling bag in Cancun and in Houston, where he was flanked by two police officers after deplaning just after 4 p.m.
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,” Beto O’Rourke – the former El Paso congressman who narrowly lost to Cruz in 2018 – chided on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”
Houston was under a hard freeze watch. Statewide, the number of Texans without power had dipped below 600,000 by the time the sun rose on Cancun’s playas.
Ted Cruz going to Cancun for vacation as his constituents freeze to death is peak Ted Cruz
Meanwhile, Beto O’Rourke is working as hard as anyone in America to help the people of Texas
One of these two men deserves to be an elected official, the other a cabana boy at Mar-a-Lago
— Seth Abramson (@SethAbramson) February 18, 2021
The Lincoln Project, an anti-Trump Republican group that has had its own massive public relations challenges lately amid allegations of sexual harassment by a co-founder, poked at Cruz by tweeting: “When the going gets tough… head to Cancun, baby!”
Bill Kristol, head of a different group of anti-Trump Republican, was so irate he mistakenly accused Cruz of heading to “Canton.”
State Rep. Gene Wu, a Houston Democrat, posted a photo of Cruz boarding the flight and taunted: “Guess which US Senator from Texas flew to Cancun while the state was freezing to death and having to boil water?”
Many others invoked Marie Antoinette, the queen during the French Revolution who purportedly quipped “let them eat cake” when told that the people were starving and had no bread.
“Let them eat snow,” quipped actor Billy Baldwin.
In his written statement, Cruz called it “an infuriating week for Texans….Like millions of Texans, our family lost heat and power too. 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. My staff and I are in constant communication with state and local leaders to get to the bottom of what happened in Texas.”
Cruz’s office did not indicate whether power had been restored to his home in Houston and if not, where he would stay when he got back, stag.
Michael Young, the former Texas Rangers standout, poked at him by saying he, too, wanted to be “a good dad.” So when his kids asked to take a trip with friends, he told them that would be “completely tone deaf and… a terrible idea.”
With school cancelled for the week, my boys wanted to take a trip with friends. Wanting to be a good dad, I asked how those friends families would allow such a thing, how it’s completely tone deaf, and explained that’s it’s a terrible idea.
— Michael Young (@MikeyY626) February 18, 2021
There was no doubt about the Cruzes’ identity, long before his office finally confirmed he had left the country.
Cruz wore the same mask he wore during President Joe Biden’s inauguration and Trump’s second impeachment trial: gray, with a black cannon and “Come and Take it,” a design reminiscent of flags used by Texans during the 1835 revolution against Mexico – a provocative choice, given the destination.
Online sleuths matched his hairline, glasses, ring and tennis shoes to previous photos of him.
Photos put the Cruz family, including daughters Catherine and Caroline, near the United Airlines gate for the 4:45 p.m. flight to Cancun, which landed just before 8 p.m.
Fellow passengers posted selfies from onboard with Cruz behind them, and photos just of him, or of him and Heidi. Some wrote on Facebook that they’d spoken with him.
It’s not as though Cruz can walk through a Texas airport unrecognized after eight years in the Senate.
He was runner-up for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination. His name ID in the state is near total.
For the flight back to Houston, Cruz wore a mask that looks like the state flag of Texas.
Unlike, say, Irving congresswoman Beth Van Duyne, who posted a photo of herself huddling near a fireplace because like millions of other Texans, she had lost power and heat, Cruz and his family suffered no such challenges that might prompt a trip to warmer climes.
As of Monday, Cruz told conservative talk show host Joe “Pags” Pagliarulo that “our house was lucky” and still had power, though “right now we’ve got a bunch of the neighborhood kids all over playing with our girls” because their own homes were dark and cold. Noting the dangerous conditions, he added this advice to fellow Texans: “If you can stay home, don’t go out on the roads, don’t risk the ice. … Don’t risk it. Keep your family safe, and just stay home and hug your kids.”
Julián Castro, a former Obama housing secretary and San Antonio Mayor, said Cruz “should be on the phone with federal agencies, not on a trip to Mexico,” asserting that “in crises like these, members of Congress play a critical role connecting their constituents to emergency services and assistance.”
O’Rourke, no longer in office, led a “Texas welfare check” phone bank that made 151,000 calls on Wednesday alone to connect vulnerable Texans to warming centers, meals and other resources.
What could @tedcruz do if he were here in Texas? I’m hard-pressed to say. If he’s in Cancun, that means he’s not using up valuable resources of energy, food and water that can now be used by someone else. This is probably the best thing he could do for the state right now
— Dinesh D’Souza (@DineshDSouza) February 18, 2021
In crises like these, members of Congress play a critical role connecting their constituents to emergency services and assistance. @tedcruz should be on the phone with federal agencies, not on a trip to Mexico. https://t.co/bjbehcaAwi
— Julián Castro (@JulianCastro) February 18, 2021
A relative handful of defenders pointed out that unlike a governor, a senator has no direct responsibility for emergency management.
Conservative pundit Erick Erickson called it “ignorance” for anyone to think a senator “can do anything about a state power grid.”
Dinesh D’Souza, the conservative commentator pardoned by Trump in 2018 for making an illegal campaign contribution, argued that in Cancun, “he’s not using up valuable resources of energy, food and water that can now be used by someone else. This is probably the best thing he could do for the state right now.”
The Senate has been in recess since Saturday afternoon, when Cruz and 44 other Republicans voted to acquit Trump on a charge of inciting insurrection.
“Senate is out, he can afford it,” wrote one reader, Dallas resident Mark Gist. “What exactly is the problem?”
The uproar prompted fresh calls for Cruz to resign, suggestions that have come with escalating frequency since Trump’s defeat in November, when he began amplifying Trump’s false claims that the election had been stolen through fraud. Cruz has long shrugged off such unsolicited advice.
The Texas Democratic Party issued its 21st such resignation demand, with chairman Gilberto Hinojosa accusing “Cancun Cruz” of “abandoning us in our greatest time of need.” He said the vacation shows that “Texas Republicans don’t give a damn about you or me.”
That mirrored an allegation leveled at Democrats by Cruz, whose aides asked Houston police on Wednesday to escort him and his family at the airport before they headed south. “If you’re a blue collar [worker], if you’ve got calluses on your hands, if you’re a cop, or a firefighter, or a waiter, or a waitress, or construction worker — this Democratic Party doesn’t care about you,” he said last month to Fox News’ Sean Hannity.
Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo said his office received no request to help Cruz upon his return Thursday, though he expected “a media circus.”
Texas Democrats also set up a website, FlyinTedCruz.com, directing visitors to Feed America, a charity that combats hunger.
At American Bridge 21st Century, a Democratic group, president Bradley Beychok accused Cruz of “sipping mai tais on a beach” as millions of Texans froze, though margaritas and cerveza would be more common in Cancun.
As CNN, Politico and other major outlets were hounding Cruz aides for any sort of explanation, with no more success than home state news media, Punchbowl News found the senator’s name on the upgrade list for a United flight to Houston later in the day – the first suggestion of his retreat.
Here’s the upgrade list for this afternoon’s flight from Cancun to Houston.
That’s assuming that “cru, r” is him. And I do. pic.twitter.com/CqfKa5rJfG
— Jake Sherman (@JakeSherman) February 18, 2021
It’s not always a given that a comms office feels the need to confirm or deny bad intel. But you’d think at this juncture if that wasn’t Ted Cruz in Cancun his staff would have said so.
— Sam Stein (@samstein) February 18, 2021
In December, Cruz hit Austin Mayor Steve Adler and other Democrats as “utter hypocrites” for ignoring pandemic guidelines to avoid unnecessary travel.
“Don’t forget @MayorAdler who took a private jet with eight people to Cabo and WHILE IN CABO recorded a video telling Austinites to `stay home if you can…this is not the time to relax.’” he tweeted.
You’re right. But you and your fellow slime bags are hypocrites, too.
— Nobody over 17 should eat Takis (@Jaxon95228411) December 2, 2020
Charlotte Clymer, a former spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign, quipped that she was “kinda shocked Ted Cruz is able to fly anywhere with all his baggage” and that she expected to the radicalized Texas GOP to find a way to blame the uproar on Antifa.
“My grandmother is a third-generation Texan. She’s not in her own home right now. She’s at a relative’s house, where their power is still off, too, because they have a fireplace to keep everyone relatively warm,” she wrote on Twitter. “And Ted Cruz took a vacay to Cancún.”
My grandmother is a third-generation Texan. She’s not in her own home right now. She’s at a relative’s house, where their power is still off, too, because they have a fireplace to keep everyone relatively warm.
And Ted Cruz took a vacay to Cancún.
— Charlotte Clymer 🏳️🌈 (@cmclymer) February 18, 2021
Washington correspondent Tom Benning contributed to this report.