Sen. Ted Cruz will fly home from Cancun after fury over trip during Texas deep freeze

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

Is Sen. Ted Cruz now going to be known as "Flyin' Ted"?

Cruz sparked outrage 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.

Cruz issued a statement Thursday afternoon, after hours of his staff not responding to questions about his whereabouts, saying he took the trip because his two preteen daughters asked him to do so.

"Our homes are freezing and our lights are out. Like millions of Texans, our family lost heat and power too," said Cruz.

He noted that he would be flying back home Thursday, about 24 hours after he flew to Cancun.

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

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.

On Thursday, other images showed someone with the Republican's last name and first initial of his legal first name — Rafael — standing by for a United Airlines flight from Cancun, where the temperature was around 84 degrees Fahrenheit, back to Houston, where it was 50 degrees colder.

A photo showed Cruz shortly before his flight back home rolling a suitcase through Cancun's airport, wearing a mask with the Texas flag design on it.

Cruz got out of a car at the airport with a man wearing a polo shirt from 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.

Hotel Ritz Carlton, CancunPeter Bischoff | Getty Images

Cruz, in his statement, did not talk about his hotel.

"This has been an infuriating week for Texans. The greatest state in the greatest country in the world has been without power. We have food lines, gas lines, and people sleeping at the neighbors' houses," he said.

"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," wrote Cruz.

The senators' daughters are age 12 and 10.

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

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. 

"My staff and I are in constant communication with state and local leaders to get to the bottom of what happened in Texas," Cruz said.

"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.

Images posted on social media show a woman who appears to be Cruz's wife Heidi with him in that airport Wednesday.

The Dallas Morning News reported that the mask seen on Cruz from the airport is the same mask that 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.

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

The Texas Democratic Party called on Cruz to resign or be expelled from office in light of the apparent trip.

"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 was asked about Cruz by reporters Thursday, and took a sharp crack at him.

"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, blasted him during an interview Thursday on MSNBC's "Morning Joe."

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," said O'Rourke, who in 2019 campaigned for the Democratic presidential nomination.

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Source: United Airlines

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..

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Ted Cruz listed on standby list for a United Airlines flightSource: United Airlines

On Tuesday, 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.

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