As Texas was battered by an icy storm and widespread power losses that left millions of residents freezing and fearing for their safety, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas left the state on Wednesday and traveled to Mexico for a previously planned family vacation, according to a person with direct knowledge of the trip.
Photos of Mr. Cruz and his wife boarding a flight from Houston to Cancún, Mexico sparked a fierce outcry on social media late Wednesday. The person familiar with his trip, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss Mr. Cruz’s personal travel, said the senator planned to return to Texas on Thursday.
Mr. Cruz’s office issued a statement on Thursday afternoon.
“With school canceled 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,” Mr. Cruz said, adding that, like millions of other Texans, his family had lost heat and power.
Mr. Cruz insisted that he and his staff had been “in constant communication” with state and local leaders during his brief Cancún trip. The Senate was in recess this week.
“This has been an infuriating week for Texans,” he said.
As Mr. Cruz left the country, his home state was gripped by crisis: millions of people without power, many without running water and a deep freeze so severe that the Federal Emergency Management Agency had been activated to send supplies. Gov. Greg Abbott declared that, “Every source of power that the state of Texas has has been compromised.”
While the city of Houston was gripped by the freezing weather, a member of Mr. Cruz’s staff contacted the Houston Police Department personnel at George Bush Intercontinental Airport on Wednesday afternoon requesting “assistance upon arrival,” according to Jodi Silva, a department spokeswoman.
Ms. Silva said they had “monitored his movements” before he departed. Ms. Silva said she did not have any information about Mr. Cruz’s potential return to the city on Thursday.
Mr. Cruz himself had posted updates throughout Wednesday on Twitter about the intensity of the winter storm from the National Weather Service. “Stay safe and please continue to follow the warnings and updates provided by state and local officials,” he wrote on Wednesday morning.
With Mr. Cruz’s office silent as the photos spread on social media, some spotted an “CRU, R.” on a public standby list for a 4:44 p.m. flight from Houston to Cancún on Wednesday. Those same initials briefly appeared on a standby list for a return flight on Thursday afternoon. Both eventually disappeared. Mr. Cruz’s formal full name is Rafael Edward Cruz.
Mr. Cruz’s decision to leave his state in the middle of a crisis was an especially confounding one for a politician who has already run for president once, in 2016, and widely seen as wanting to run again in 2024 or beyond.
Mr. Cruz, 50, narrowly won re-election in 2018 against Beto O’Rourke, a former representative, with less than 51 percent of the vote. In that race, Mr. Cruz aggressively touted his efforts in a past emergency, Hurricane Harvey. He is not up for re-election again until 2024.
Even before he skipped town, Mr. Cruz’s critics were already recirculating tweets he sent last summer criticizing California for being “unable to perform even basic functions of civilization” after the state’s governor asked residents to conserve electricity during a spate of deadly wildfires. Mr. Cruz lampooned California’s “failed energy policy” as the product of liberal excess.
Mr. Cruz had been acutely aware of the possible crisis in advance. In a radio interview on Monday, he said the state could see 100 or more deaths this week. “So don’t risk it. Keep your family safe and just stay home and hug your kids,” he said.
More recently, in December, Mr. Cruz had attacked a Democrat, Mayor Stephen Adler of Austin, for taking a trip to Cabo while telling constituents to “stay home” during the pandemic.
“Hypocrites,” Mr. Cruz wrote on Twitter. “Complete and utter hypocrites.”