Texas Senator Ted Cruz flew to Mexico with his family for a holiday amid a winter weather crisis that has left millions in his state without power.
In a statement on Thursday, Mr Cruz said that he planned the trip for his daughters; “wanting to be a good dad”.
Photos of the Republican lawmaker at an airport emerged on Twitter on Wednesday; fuelling reports that he had left Texas amid the energy crisis.
Texas has seen power and water outages due to the uncommonly frigid weather.
The high profile Republican has drawn quick criticism for taking an international trip amid the weather emergency in his state.
“People in Texas are literally freezing to death and yet Ted Cruz went on vacation to Cancun;” wrote Democratic Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal on Twitter.
How has Cruz defended his trip?
In a written statement released on Thursday afternoon, Mr Cruz described an “infuriating week for Texans”.
With schools closed in the state, the senator said he booked the vacation for his young daughters who; “asked to take a trip with friends”.
Mr Cruz did not apologise for making the trip amid the state of emergency in Texas, but said that he and his staff “are in constant communication with state and local leaders to get to the bottom of what happened in Texas.”
The Republican will be returning to Texas on Thursday afternoon, according to his statement.
It is not clear if his return flight was originally scheduled for Thursday or is a change in plans.
As a federal lawmaker, Mr Cruz does not have a direct role in Texas’ emergency response; but residents often reach out to their elected officials – like Mr Cruz – during natural disasters for help accessing resources.
The Houston Police Department told CBS News that a member of Mr Cruz’s staff contacted authorities on Wednesday; to request assistance upon Mr Cruz’s arrival at Houston’s international airport.
The senator arrived at the airport on Wednesday, Chief Art Acevedo said; and officers “monitored his movements through the terminal”.
What’s the reaction been?
The senator’s travel plans amid the crisis in Texas drew immediate criticism online.
“Ted Cruz not only fled the state while millions of vulnerable Texans are without heat and water but specifically diverted police resources to get him through security and crowds faster for his outgoing vacation flight,” wrote progressive rights activist Charlotte Clymer on Twitter.
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
Some criticised Mr Cruz for appearing to use his daughters to deflect blame.
“I relate to Ted Cruz because my kids have also asked tough questions of me lately like; ‘what happens if we run out of food and water,’” journalist Leah Binkovitz wrote on Twitter.
Others suggested the added scrutiny may hurt Mr Cruz as he reportedly contemplates a second presidential bid in 2024.
The lawmaker’s current Senate term will expire in early 2025.
But some conservatives came to Mr Cruz’s defence – author and activist Brigitte Gabriel wrote: “Senator Ted Cruz is one of the hardest working men in the country, he deserves a vacation.”
What’s the situation in Texas?
The news comes as hundreds of thousands of Mr Cruz’s fellow Texans woke up to a fourth day without power; after extreme winter weather overwhelmed the state’s energy grid.
At least 24 people have died amid the winter storms. Outages are expected to continue for days.
Texas officials have also ordered seven million people in the state to boil tap water before consuming it due to damaged infrastructure and pipes.
And with the sustained frigid temperatures, frozen pipes have caused a drop in water pressure in homes and hospitals.
Governor Greg Abbott has now asked residents to shut off water to their home if possible to help keep pressure up.
Mr Cruz had been active on Twitter in recent days, sharing updates about power in the state.
In his Thursday statement, Mr Cruz said that his family had also lost heat and power, just like other Texans.
“The greatest state in the greatest country in the world has been without power,” he said.