CANCUN, MEXICO (REUTERS) - US Senator Ted Cruz flew into a storm of criticism on Thursday (Feb 18) after leaving his home state of Texas in the grips of a deadly deep freeze, for a family holiday jaunt to the Mexican resort city of Cancun he said he took to please his young daughters.
After his travels were reported, the 50-year-old Republican lawmaker prepared to board a flight home while his Senate office issued a statement saying he was continuing to work for his constituents.
"With school cancelled for the week, our girls asked to take a trip with friends," Cruz said in the statement.
"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."
Cruz, viewed as a presidential hopeful in 2024, faced calls for his resignation from Democrats after photos emerged on social media showing him in an airport line, in a passenger lounge, aboard an airliner and departing an airport in Mexico.
"Resign," the Texas Democratic Party tweeted.
"Cruz is emblematic of what the Texas Republican Party and its leaders have become: weak, corrupt, inept, and self-serving politicians who don't give a damn about the people they were elected to represent," it said.
Some critics on Twitter accused him of blaming his daughters for his decision to visit a resort.
White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki, speaking before Cruz was spotted at Cancun International Airport, said tongue-in-cheek: "I don't have any updates on the exact location of Senator Ted Cruz, nor does anyone at the White House."
Millions of Texans remained paralysed by power and water outages after a winter storm and freezing temperatures that hampered efforts to restore full power.
On Wednesday, some 2.7 million Texas households were without heat and leaders warned of a domino effect on infrastructure as the lack of power cut off water supplies, strained the ability of hospitals to treat Covid-19 patients and isolated vulnerable communities with frozen roads still impassable.
"Everyone in public service can do like the people of Texas are doing right now in helping one another," Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins told MSNBC when asked about Cruz. "We need to be here, we need to be in the battle, we need to be helping Texans."
Cruz, who ran unsuccessfully for president in 2016, won re-election to the Senate in 2018 by eking out a victory over Democrat Beto O'Rourke by less than three percentage points.
He is not due to run again until 2024.
"Guess which US Senator from Texas flew to Cancun while the state was freezing to death and having to boil water?" tweeted Gene Wu, a Democrat in the Texas House of Representatives.
National Democrats sought to use the controversy in an appeal to Texas voters in 2022 US House races.
"Texas, you deserve so much better! Upgrade your representation starting in '22!" tweeted Democratic National Committee chairman Jaime Harrison.