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The Texas senator Ted Cruz has claimed he was just being “a good dad” for taking a controversial family vacation in a sunny Mexican beach resort as his home state faced a deadly winter storm that left millions without power or water.
The firebrand Republican was returning to Houston from Cancun on Thursday following furious criticism of his trip and confirmation from the city’s police chief that officers were employed to help speed his passage through the airport before his outward flight the day before.
“With school cancelled for the week, our girls asked to take a trip with friends,” Mr Cruz, who has two young daughters, said in a statement released by his office on Thursday afternoon.
“Wanting to be a good dad, I flew down with them last night and am flying back this afternoon.”
The statement followed reports that Mr Cruz had originally booked the return leg of his “long planned vacation” for Saturday, but brought forward the flight by two days as the trip became public knowledge and the backlash began.
The controversy came as Texas residents continued to suffer, a major new winter storm dumping more snow on the state on Thursday before sweeping off east towards the Atlantic coast states and easing conditions a little.
But officials warned Texans not to expect respite from sub-zero temperatures until at least Saturday, with residents who have been without water, power or heat for days facing further delays to the restoration of their supplies, and some badly affected hospitals evacuating patients to other facilities.
Later on Thursday, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas that manages the state’s power grid, said it had made “significant progress” in restoration, with little more than 500,000 customers still in the dark, down from a peak of 4.4 million.
Mr Cruz’s sudden return to Texas came after a barrage of criticism and allegations of hypocrisy from political opponents, and as mocking hashtags began to trend on Twitter.
They included #CancunCruz and #FlyinTed, in recognition of Donald Trump’s famous "Lyin’ Ted" nickname for the senator during their acrimonious campaign for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016.
“He 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 Democrat who lost narrowly to Cruz in the 2018 US Senate election in Texas, said Thursday on MSNBC’s Morning Joe.
Gene Wu, a Democratic state representative for Houston, also slammed Mr Cruz on Twitter. “Guess which US Senator from Texas flew to Cancun while the state was freezing to death and having to boil water?” he wrote.
“Flying and coach [and] waiting to be upgraded for the optics?” he said in a follow-up post. “But flying out during a state-wide disaster is fine for PR?”
Meanwhile, the Lincoln Project, a group of dissident Republicans behind a powerful social media campaign that helped oust Trump from office last year, was equally scathing.
“When the going gets tough… head to Cancun baby!” the group said in a tweet accompanied by a photograph of a row of beach hotels in the resort bathed in bright sunshine and adjacent to turquoise blue ocean.
Dinesh D’Souza, a prominent conservative commentator, attempted to defend Mr Cruz in an extraordinary Tweet that claimed the trip somehow benefited Texans.
“What could @tedcruz do if he were here in Texas? I’m hard-pressed to say.” he wrote. “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.”
The trip even came up at the afternoon White House press briefing, with Joe Biden’s spokesperson Jen Psaki taking a shot at the Republican politician.
“I don’t have any updates on the exact location of Senator Ted Cruz nor does anyone at the White House,” she told reporters.
“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, the many people across the state who are without power, without the resources they need, and we expect that would be the focus of anyone in the state or surrounding states who was elected to represent them.”
Photographs of Mr Cruz, 50, at an airport and on the flight on Wednesday showed him in the company of his wife, Heidi, and daughters, who posed with Trump at the White House in 2017.
His statement on Thursday afternoon claimed that he and his staff remained “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 back on, and our homes warm. My team and I will continue using all our resources to keep Texans informed and safe,” it said.
But it did not further address why he did not stay in the state to help deal with the crisis, which has claimed dozens of lives.
In December 2020, Mr Cruz took to Twitter to assail the Austin mayor, Steve Adler, for hypocrisy after the Democrat and several others took a trip to another Mexican resort town, Cabo, while urging citizens to stay home during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Not all the reaction to Mr Cruz’s unexplained trip was negative, however. The conservative radio host Erick Erickson defended the senator and pivoted it into an attack on his opponents.
“The fact that people think Ted Cruz, a United States Senator, can do anything about a state power grid, even his own, is rather demonstrative of the ignorance of so many people who cover politics. They’d rather performative drama than substance,” he said in a tweet.