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Ted Cruz Says Leaving Texas During Winter Disaster Was 'Obviously A Mistake' As He Returns From Cancún

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas during a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. in 2019.
U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas during a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. in 2019.

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz returned to Texas on Thursday and expressed regret for his trip to Cancún, Mexico after being chastised by both Republicans and Democrats for leaving his state as it buckles under the severe effects of a devastating winter storm.

"Look, it was obviously a mistake and in hindsight I wouldn't have done it," he said.
Cruz, known to double down in the face of controversy, was contrite in an interview with Houston affiliate KTRK where he acknowledged the gravity of criticism coming his way both within the state and beyond.

There was immediate outcry overnight that a U.S. senator would travel out of the state amid the worst storm in many Texans' lifetimes.

"I was trying to be a dad, and all of us have made decisions — when you've got two girls who have been cold for two days and haven't had heater power, and they're saying 'Hey, look we don't have school why don't we go, let's get out of here.' I think there are a lot of parents that would be like, 'Look, if I can do this great.' That's what I wanted to do," he told the TV station.

"[But] really from the moment I sat on the plane, I began really second-guessing that decision, and saying 'Look, I know why we're doing this, but I've also got responsibilities, and it had been my intention to be able to work remotely, to be on the phone, to be on the internet, to be on Zoom, to be engaged, but I needed to be here and that's why I came back."

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.

NBC News reported that Cruz booked his return ticket early in the morning on Thursday. The New York Times reported that Cruz's wife, Heidi Cruz, organized an impromptu trip that was to last until Sunday.

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.

State GOP Chairman Allen West similarly responded to a query from the Associated Press, saying his "focus" was on taking care of his family and friends.

“That’s something that he has to answer to his constituents about,” Texas GOP Chair Allen West said when asked whether Cruz’s travel was appropriate while Texans are without power and water.

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. She later urged her followers to donate to a link that would distribute money to several organizations that are aiding Texans in dire straits.

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."

Abby Livingston | Texas Tribune