WASHINGTON – As millions of Texans continued to suffer in subfreezing temperatures without power and water, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz traveled with his family to sunny Cancún, Mexico on Wednesday where the temperatures were around 80 degrees.
First spotted at an airport by a social media user who posted his photo, there was an immediate outcry overnight that a U.S. senator would travel out of the state amid the worst storm in many Texans’ lifetimes.
"This has been an infuriating week for Texans. The greatest state in the greatest country in the world has been without power,” the senator said in a Thursday afternoon statement. “We have food lines, gas lines and people sleeping at the neighbors' houses. Our homes are freezing and our lights are out. Like millions of Texans, our family lost heat and power too.”
"With school canceled for the week, our girls asked to take a trip with friends,” he added. “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. 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."
Typically, in a disaster, a federal officeholder’s primary role is to communicate to the federal branch — including the president — the immediate needs of the district or state. The first official move for a U.S. senator is to send a letter to the president after a governor makes a request for a federal emergency disaster declaration. Cruz and U.S. Sen. John Cornyn wrote such a letter on Feb. 14.
In the throes of a crisis, the onus of executing aid is mostly on a state’s governor. But, as state leaders, senators often help coordinate relief efforts with other public officials, engage in a public information campaign and great care is taken to ensure the senator is in the public eye and showing concern.
The bigger task for senators comes after a crisis, when they must fight for federal money to deal with the damage.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott told reporters he was focused on the disaster response and was not paying attention to the matter.
“Candidly, I haven’t been following people’s vacation plans,” he said at a Thursday press conference.
The backlash on Twitter began Wednesday night, and by Thursday morning the state’s junior senator was trending. Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa issued a statement calling on the senator to step down.
“Ted Cruz jetting off to Mexico while Texans remain dying in the cold isn't surprising but it is deeply disturbing and disappointing,” he said. “Now, he is proving to be an enemy to our state by abandoning us in our greatest time of need. For the 21st time, the Texas Democratic Party calls on Ted Cruz to resign or be expelled from office.”
Cruz has previously made political sport of criticizing Democratic rivals in the state and in California.
In December, Cruz hammered Austin Mayor Steve Adler for traveling to Mexico while urging Austinites to stay home over the holidays.
“Hypocrites. Complete and utter hypocrites. And 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.”
Earlier this week, Cruz was a focal point of ire among critics due to a 2020 tweet he sent mocking California’s inability “to perform even basic functions of civilization, like having reliable electricity.”
On Tuesday, he posted an about face on that front: “I got no defense…A blizzard strikes Texas & our state shuts down. Not good. Stay safe!”
U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a New York Democrat who has been calling for Cruz’ resignation over his role in attempting to block the certification of the presidential election, piled on Thursday morning to the Cruz criticism.
“If Sen. Cruz had resigned back in January after helping gin up a violent insurrection that killed several people, he could've taken his vacation in peace. Texans should continue to demand his resignation,” she tweeted.
The choice of Mexico as a vacation destination for his family is also notable, as Cruz is a frequent critic of the nation’s government and has previously made references to the “destabilizing violence.”
Correction, Feb. 18, 2021: Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled Gilberto Hinojosa’s name.
Correction, Feb. 18, 2021: Due to an editing error, an earlier version of this story incorrectly identified U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez as a U.S. senator.
The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.