Airport photo sparks outrage in US
United States Senator Ted Cruz is at the centre of growing outrage after he flew to Cancun, Mexico yesterday while his home state of Texas was suffering through the fallout of a massive winter storm, which has left hundreds of thousands of his constituents without power.
Record low temperatures have hit huge swathes of the US this week, with about a third of the country experiencing sub-zero conditions. At least 30 people have died, most of them in Texas, which is located in the Deep South.
The state has been blanketed in snow, and its power grids have been overwhelmed. Rolling blackouts started on Sunday night, and as of this morning - four days into the crisis - about 537,000 residents were still without power.
Today, officials from the Electric Reliability Council of Texas revealed the entire state's power grid was minutes away from "catastrophic failure" when the outages began.
The freezing temperatures have also damaged Texas's infrastructure, bursting water pipes and leaving many residents without any running water.
Making matters even worse, the outages have affected water treatment plants. Last night, seven million Texas were under instructions to boil tap water before drinking it to ensure it was safe.
Amid all of that, photos emerged on social media yesterday of a man who appeared to be Mr Cruz at the international airport in Houston, and then on a flight to Cancun. One of the identifying factors was a distinctive face mask Mr Cruz has frequently worn in public.
The Senator's office did not respond to requests for comment from the news media, but both Fox News and The Associated Press later confirmed he had gone on holiday with his family, citing anonymous sources with knowledge of the situation.
After that, the Houston Police Department told NBC Mr Cruz's staff had contacted them for assistance yesterday afternoon regarding his trip to the airport.
"They reached out to us, let us know that we was going to be arriving and could we assist, so upon his arrival to the Houston airport we monitored his movements," a department spokesperson said.
At about 10am this morning, eastern time - as Mr Cruz's office still remained silent - Punchbowl News reported that the Senator appeared to be heading back to the US, as his name appeared on the upgrade list for an afternoon flight from Cancun to Houston.
The list included the name "CRU, R". Mr Cruz's first name is Rafael (Ted comes from his middle name, Edward).
Here’s the upgrade list for this afternoon’s flight from Cancun to Houston.— Jake Sherman (@JakeSherman) February 18, 2021
Looks like @tedcruz is on his way back, @danpfeiffer. He’s just narrowly missing the upgrade list
That’s assuming that “cru, r” is him. And I do. pic.twitter.com/CqfKa5rJfG
Finally, shortly after 1pm, Mr Cruz issued a statement.
"This has been an infuriating week for Texans. The greatest state in the greatest country in the world has been without power," he said.
"We have food lines, gas lines, and people sleeping at neighbours' houses. Our homes are freezing and our lights are out. Like millions of Texans, our family lost heat and power too.
"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.
"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."
That statement brings to mind Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison's controversial family holiday to Hawaii during the bushfire crisis in 2019, and his explanation that he was keeping a promise to his daughters.
Mr Cruz did not say when he had booked his flight back today - i.e. whether he had always planned to stay in Cancun for a single night, or whether he booked the flight back after media reports of his trip emerged. He will presumably face that question when he lands in Houston.
NEW: Sen. Ted Cruz statement references -- and attributes trip -- to his daughters pic.twitter.com/3dSvKDOMZh— Scott MacFarlane (@MacFarlaneNews) February 18, 2021
During a radio interview with The Joe Pags Show on Monday, two days before boarding his flight to Cancun, Mr Cruz urged other Texans to "stay home".
"This storm is dangerous, and there's a second storm expected to hit this week which could make things even worse," he said.
"So if you could stay home, don't go out on the roads, don't risk the ice.
"I was speaking this weekend with a meteorologist expert, who was saying the combination of these two storms, we could see up to 100 people lose their lives this week in Texas. So don't risk it. Keep your family safe, and just stay home and hug your kids."
Mr Cruz's political opponents have accused him of neglecting his duty to his constituents.
"I understand (he's) vacationing in Cancun right now, when people are literally freezing to death in the state that he was elected to represent and serve," Beto O'Rourke, the Democrat who lost a Senate race to Mr Cruz in 2018, said on MSNBC last night.
"It's just unbelievable," said another Democrat, Texas state House member Chris Turner.
"Just when I think Ted Cruz couldn't disappoint Texans more, he finds a new way to do it.
"As far as I'm concerned, it'd be fine if he remained in Cancun. He doesn't do anything for us in Texas or in Washington. So I don't know that we're going to notice when he comes back."
Originally published as Airport photo sparks outrage in US
Just confirmed @SenTedCruz and his family flew to Cancun tonight for a few days at a resort they've visited before. Cruz seems to believe there isn't much for him to do in Texas for the millions of fellow Texans who remain without electricity/water and are literally freezing. pic.twitter.com/6nPiVWtdxe— David Shuster (@DavidShuster) February 18, 2021
Colleague Paul Steinhauser confirms GOP TX Sen Ted Cruz traveled to Cancun amid the TX storm/power outages. GOP Source: “the photos speak for themselves”— Chad Pergram (@ChadPergram) February 18, 2021