“With school canceled 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.”
A spokesperson for the Houston Police Department confirmed that a member of Cruz’s staff contacted the department Wednesday afternoon and requested law enforcement “assistance upon Sen. Cruz’s arrival” at Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport.
Using flight data, POLITICO confirmed on Thursday morning that a passenger with Cruz’s name was flying back to Texas later in the afternoon. But the backlash against him already had begun.
“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,” Texas Democratic Party Chair Gilberto Hinojosa said in a statement. “They were elected by the people but have no interest or intent of doing their jobs.”
The Senate is on a scheduled recess this week, with many senators returning to work in their home states. Meanwhile, winter storms have pummeled cities across Texas all week, leaving millions of residents unable to heat their homes or buy food. Cruz urged Texans during a Monday radio interview to “just stay home” as the winter weather was bearing down on the state.
In his statement, Cruz said he and his staff “are in constant communication with state and local leaders to get to the bottom of what happened in Texas.”
The trip isn’t the first time Cruz has courted controversy during a natural disaster. When Hurricane Sandy battered the northeast in 2012, he vocally opposed a relief package to help those states rebuild, blasting it as a “Christmas tree” filled with unnecessary spending. But when Hurricane Harvey hit Texas in 2017, Cruz led the charge for an emergency spending bill to help his state and faced questions from fellow lawmakers — as well as then-GOP Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey — about the apparent double standard.
On Sunday, Cruz and Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) sought and received an approval from President Joe Biden of Texas GOP Gov. Greg Abbott’s request for an emergency declaration to help the state combat the crippling storms.
Lawmakers are typically eager to show their faces when their constituents are dealing with natural disasters or other tragedies — not only for the optics, but to help lead response and recovery efforts.
Cruz is already facing a Senate Ethics Committee investigation, requested by Democrats, over his efforts to object to the Electoral College certification on Jan. 6, when a violent mob stormed the Capitol to prevent lawmakers from certifying Joe Biden’s victory.
Even after the insurrection, Cruz maintained his objections to the certification even as some of his fellow Republicans backed away. Top Republicans including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell harangued the effort as a dangerous attempt to overturn the will of the voters.
Cruz’s latest problem began late Wednesday, when Twitter users began sharing photos allegedly showing Cruz and his family in line to board a flight at Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport. The flight departed in the 4 p.m. hour on Wednesday en route to Cancun, the resort city in Mexico.
Additional photos later circulated on Twitter showing Cruz on the plane, including one of him seated and reading from his phone. By Thursday morning, Democratic group American Bridge was calling for his resignation.
According to the flight-tracking service FlightAware, the United Airlines jet departed just before 5 p.m. local time and landed in Cancun at around 7:45 p.m.
By Thursday morning, Cruz was listed as a standby passenger for business class on a flight from Cancun to Houston, scheduled to depart at 2:35 p.m. But his name was soon scrubbed from the list, suggesting that Cruz had a confirmed seat in economy class.
While Cruz described the Cancun trip as a request from his children, at least one other parent at their school raised concerns about the getaway and inquired about whether Cruz’s family would have to quarantine after returning to the U.S., according to a person familiar with the matter.
“As with any other school family, they must QUARANTINE APPROPRIATELY upon their return, correct?” one parent wrote on Facebook.
Beto O’Rourke, the Democrat Cruz defeated in 2018’s Texas Senate race, tweeted that he spent Wednesday night on a phone-banking effort to check in on senior citizens. O’Rourke also has been using his Twitter account to direct Texans toward shelters and food banks.
Texas grid operators said Thursday morning they have begun to restore power to most customers, but for nearly a week as many as 4 million residents of the Lone Star state lived without electric light or, in many cases electric heat, amid near-zero temperatures.
Pictures soon surfaced on social media of frost in living rooms and food on porches to keep it from spoiling while refrigerators had no power as residents struggled to stay warm amid the days-long power failure. By Wednesday night 7 million Texans were under boil water orders as water utilities working with reduced electricity supply struggled to keep up with demand.
Eric Wolff contributed to this report.