WASHINGTON — As 3 million Texans shivered in the dark, Sen. Ted Cruz jetted off to Cancun with his family, outed instantly by fellow vacationers and berated by critics for abandoning constituents during an epic statewide power crisis.

He spent just one night out of the country – not long enough for a sunburn, but plenty of time to get blistered.

Social media photos from Houston’s Bush Intercontinental Airport and aboard the flight to the sun-drenched beach resort flourished Wednesday evening. By Thursday, when temperatures along Mexico’s Caribbean coast were on track to hit 83 degrees, the pile-on was at full boil.

Detractors dusted off vintage Cruz comments denying the existence of climate change and decrying Democrats as coastal elites who care not a whit for the plight of ordinary Americans.

With Cancun, CancunCruz and FlyinTed (an homage to Donald Trump’s “Lyin’ Ted” epithet) trending online – along with “Heidi,” as in Heidi Cruz, his wife – the senator remained uncharacteristically silent overnight. Aides ignored inquiries about the uproar the boss’s getaway triggered until just after noon Thursday, when they revealed that he would fly back to Texas 24 hours after he left.

“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,” Cruz said in a statement that left it ambiguous as to whether he planned to return so soon, or abruptly changed his ticket as the condemnation mounted.

At the Houston airport, he toted an expanded rolling bag that most travelers would consider far too big for one overnight, and too big for overhead stowage, plus a beach bag. Thursday afternoon at the Cancun airport, he had the same expanded rolling bag.

Cruz “is 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 former El Paso congressman who narrowly lost to Cruz in 2018 – chided on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”

Houston was under a hard freeze watch. Statewide, the number of Texans without power had dipped below 600,000 by the time the sun rose on Cancun’s playas.

“This has been an infuriating week for Texans. The greatest state in the greatest country in the world has been without power. We have food lines, gas lines, and people sleeping at the neighbors’ houses. Our homes are freezing and our lights are out. Like millions of Texans, our family lost heat and power too,” Cruz said. “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.”

Senator Ted Cruz carries his luggage at the Cancun International Airport before boarding his plane back to the U.S., in Cancun, Mexico. Photo by Stringer pic.twitter.com/KKDtldAXoE

Ted Cruz going to Cancun for vacation as his constituents freeze to death is peak Ted CruzMeanwhile, Beto O’Rourke is working as hard as anyone in America to help the people of TexasOne of these two men deserves to be an elected official, the other a cabana boy at Mar-a-Lago

The Lincoln Project, an anti-Trump Republican group that has had its own massive public relations challenges lately amid allegations of sexual harassment by one of its founders, poked at Cruz by tweeting: “When the going gets tough… head to Cancun, baby!”

Bill Kristol, head of a different group of anti-Trump Republican, was so irate he mistakenly accused Cruz of heading to “Canton.”

State Rep. Gene Wu, a Houston Democrat, posted a photo of Cruz boarding the flight and taunted: “Guess which US Senator from Texas flew to Cancun while the state was freezing to death and having to boil water?”

Many others invoked Marie Antoinette, the queen during the French Revolution who purportedly quipped “let them eat cake” when told that the people were starving and had no bread.

Guess which US Senator from Texas flew to Cancun while the state was freezing to death and having to boil water? pic.twitter.com/fNY00EmMMR

Cruz wore the same mask he wore during President Joe Biden’s inauguration and Trump’s second impeachment trial: gray, with a black cannon and “Come and Take it,” a design reminiscent of flags used by Texans during the 1835 revolution against Mexico – a provocative choice, given the destination.

Photos put the Cruz family, including daughters Catherine and Caroline, near the United Airlines gate for the 4:10 p.m. flight to Cancun, which landed just before 8 p.m.

Fellow passengers posted selfies from onboard with Cruz behind them, and photos just of him, or of him and Heidi. Some wrote on Facebook that they’d spoken with him.

He’s been in the Senate for eight years. He was runner-up for the GOP presidential nomination in 2016. His name ID in the state is near total; a University of Texas poll last fall found that 96% of Texans had some opinion about him.

For the flight back to Houston, Cruz wore a mask that looks like the state flag of Texas.

Unlike, say, Irving congresswoman Beth Van Duyne, who posted a photo of herself huddling near a fireplace because like millions of other Texans, she had lost power and heat, Cruz and his family suffered no such challenges that might prompt a trip to warmer climes.

On Monday, Cruz told conservative talk show host Joe “Pags” Pagliarulo that ”thankfully, my home, we didn’t lose power. So right now we’ve got a bunch of the neighborhood kids all over playing with our girls, because their parents lost power and our house was lucky. So we’ve got kids running up and down the stairs right now.“

Noting the dangerous conditions, he added this advice to fellow Texans, a day before heading to the airport: “If you can stay home, don’t go out on the roads, don’t risk the ice. … Don’t risk it. Keep your family safe, and just stay home and hug your kids.”

Julián Castro, a former Obama housing secretary and San Antonio Mayor, said Cruz “should be on the phone with federal agencies, not on a trip to Mexico,” asserting that “in crises like these, members of Congress play a critical role connecting their constituents to emergency services and assistance.”

In crises like these, members of Congress play a critical role connecting their constituents to emergency services and assistance. @tedcruz should be on the phone with federal agencies, not on a trip to Mexico. https://t.co/bjbehcaAwi

A relative handful of defenders pointed out that unlike a governor, a senator has no direct responsibility for emergency management.

Conservative pundit Erick Erickson called it “ignorance” for anyone to think a senator “can do anything about a state power grid,” drawing a rebuttal that, given his vast network and high profile, Cruz is “uniquely positioned” to catalyze relief efforts.

Dinesh D’Souza, the conservative commentator pardoned by Trump in 2018 for making an illegal campaign contribution, argued that in Cancun, “he’s not using up valuable resources of energy, food and water that can now be used by someone else. This is probably the best thing he could do for the state right now.”

“Senate is out, he can afford it,” wrote one reader, Dallas resident Mark Gist. “What exactly is the problem?”

O’Rourke, no longer in office, led a “Texas welfare check” phone bank that made 151,000 calls on Wednesday to connect vulnerable Texans to warming centers, meals and other resources, for instance.

What could @tedcruz do if he were here in Texas? I’m hard-pressed to say. If he’s in Cancun, that means he’s not using up valuable resources of energy, food and water that can now be used by someone else. This is probably the best thing he could do for the state right now

Calls for Cruz to resign have come with escalating frequency since Trump’s defeat in November, when he began amplifying Trump’s false claims that the election had been stolen through fraud. Cruz has long shrugged off such unsolicited advice.

The Texas Democratic Party issued its 21st such demand amid the latest outcry. Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa accused “Cancun Cruz” of “abandoning us in our greatest time of need,” and said the vacation shows that “Texas Republicans don’t give a damn about you or me.”

That mirrored an allegation leveled at Democrats by Cruz, whose aides asked Houston police on Wednesday to escort him and his family at the airport before they headed south. “If you’re a blue collar [worker], if you’ve got calluses on your hands, if you’re a cop, or a firefighter, or a waiter, or a waitress, or construction worker — this Democratic Party doesn’t care about you,” he said last month to Fox News’ Sean Hannity.

(Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo said his office had not received any such request on Thursday for Cruz’s return but would monitor the situation because “his arrival will more than likely turn into a media circus.”)

While we are not aware of any request from Senator Cruz’s staff for assistance regarding his return, his arrival will more than likely turn into a media circus, so @houstonpolice will be monitoring the situation. https://t.co/ERAVPoM79D

At American Bridge 21st Century, a Democratic group, president Bradley Beychok said Cruz was apparently “sipping mai tais on a beach in Cancun” – though margaritas and cerveza would be more common – as millions of Texans freeze.

“It’s been clear since he unapologetically helped incite a violent insurrection on January 6 that Ted Cruz is not fit to represent Texas in the United States Senate,” he said.

CNN, Politico and other major outlets were hounding Cruz aides for any sort of explanation, with no more success than home state news media. Punchbowl News found Cruz’s name on the upgrade list for a United flight back to Houston on Thursday afternoon, the first suggestion of the hasty retreat.

Here’s the upgrade list for this afternoon’s flight from Cancun to Houston. Looks like ⁦@tedcruz⁩ is on his way back, ⁦@danpfeiffer⁩. He’s just narrowly missing the upgrade listThat’s assuming that “cru, r” is him. And I do. pic.twitter.com/CqfKa5rJfG

It’s not always a given that a comms office feels the need to confirm or deny bad intel. But you’d think at this juncture if that wasn’t Ted Cruz in Cancun his staff would have said so.

The Senate has been in recess since Saturday afternoon, when Cruz and 44 other Republicans voted to acquit Trump on a charge of inciting insurrection.

By Thursday morning, Cruz had remained quiet online. Shortly after the flight landed, he retweeted a tweet from Gov. Greg Abbott noting that 1.6 million customers had power restored on Wednesday.

In December, Cruz hit Austin Mayor Steve Adler and other Democrats as “utter hypocrites” for ignoring pandemic guidelines to avoid unnecessary travel.

“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.’” he tweeted.

Charlotte Clymer, a former spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign, quipped that she was “kinda shocked Ted Cruz is able to fly anywhere with all his baggage” and that she expected to the radicalized Texas GOP to find a way to blame the uproar on Antifa.

“My grandmother is a third-generation Texan. She’s not in her own home right now. She’s at a relative’s house, where their power is still off, too, because they have a fireplace to keep everyone relatively warm. And Ted Cruz took a vacay to Cancún,” she wrote on Twitter.

My grandmother is a third-generation Texan. She’s not in her own home right now. She’s at a relative’s house, where their power is still off, too, because they have a fireplace to keep everyone relatively warm.And Ted Cruz took a vacay to Cancún.

through his office and campaign, ted cruz has thousands of contacts across the state and direct access to the kinds of people who can help organize and deliver relief. for someone who isn’t in the texas government itself, he is uniquely positioned to help. https://t.co/djnndcI0MS

Todd J. Gillman. Todd became Washington Bureau Chief in 2009 and has covered East Texas, Dallas City Hall and politics since joining The News in 1989. He’s been elected three times to the White House Correspondents’ Association board, with a term ending in 2023. Todd has a Master in Public Policy from Harvard and a BA from Johns Hopkins in international studies.

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News – Ted Cruz insists he’s just ‘good dad’ taking girls to Cancun but leaves after one night—long enough to get blistered