"The photos speak for themselves," one source told Fox News

By Virginia Chamlee
Updated February 18, 2021 11:10 AM
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Many social media users were consumed Wednesday night and Thursday with one question:

Did Texas Sen. Ted Cruz really pack up and fly to Cancún, Mexico, from Houston as his home state was grappling with dire power outages and a rising death toll during a massive winter storm?

The answer, it turns out, is yes.

A Houston police spokeswoman tells PEOPLE that Cruz's staff "called yesterday [Wednesday] to say that he would be in the airport and requested HPD's assistance, at which time, when he arrived at Bush Intercontinental Airport, our officers monitored his movements."

The police spokeswoman did not know if such a detail was standard protocol for an elected official.

In a statement released to the press Thursday afternoon, Cruz claimed he had only gone to Mexico to drop off his daughters, who had asked to "take a trip with friends."

Writing that this had been "an infuriating week for Texans," Cruz said that his family "lost heat and power too."

The statement continued: "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."

Sen. Ted Cruz returns to Texas from Mexico on Thursday.
| Credit: BACKGRID

The controversy surrounding Cruz's trip was touched off Wednesday night on Twitter, when it seems a user named Juan Gomez was the first to post a photo of a man that looked strikingly like Cruz standing at an airport gate.

Gomez wrote: "Well Senator Cruz is flying to Cancun while millions of Texans do not have electricity #Priorities #ThanksforNothingSenator"

The photo and other images from the airport were not verified. But they showed the man wearing the same face mask Cruz has been photographed wearing before.

Citing a Republican source, Fox News reported Cruz, 50, had in fact traveled to Cancún.

"The photos speak for themselves," the source said.

The New York Times reported similarly, according to a source: Cruz flew to Cancún on Wednesday for a "previously planned family vacation."

Political reporter Jake Sherman noted Thursday that a "Cru., R." (Cruz's first name is Rafael) was listed on stand-by for a business-class seat from Cancún back to Houston.

Cruz's trip to Mexico came at the same time as a historic winter storm crippled his state's power grid this week, at one point leaving more than 2.8 million people without power.

More than 20 deaths have reportedly been linked to the weather that has pummeled Texas and other parts of the U.S.

Sen. Ted Cruz
| Credit: Shutterstock

Social media was swarmed with criticism of Cruz in the wake of the airport photos.

"I live deep in the heart of Texas and this should piss everyone off," wrote one user. "People are freezing, starving, worried about clean water and he leaves for a beach vacation?"

Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar wrote that, during the 2020 Minneapolis protests over George Floyd's death, her office "held food drives and donated more than 20 tons of food to the community. Meanwhile, as millions of Texans lack power, heat, and food, @tedcruz heads off to Cancun. Hm."

Beto O'Rourke, a former Texas lawmaker who unsuccessfully challenged Cruz in the 2018 election, criticized him in an MSNBC appearance, according to The Dallas Morning News.

O'Rourke said Cruz was "vacationing in Cancún right now when people are literally freezing to death in the state that he was elected to represent and serve."

The Morning News pointed out, however, that Cruz also had some defenders who said that, as a senator, he wouldn't have direct authority over emergency response anyway.

In a podcast interview on Monday, Cruz said that his home had not lost power and his family was hosting other neighborhood children, according to the Morning News.

He urged others "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."

Sen. Ted Cruz
| Credit: Jonathan Newton-Pool/Getty

The "unprecedented and expansive" storm dropped disruptive amounts of snow and ice on states from the South to the Northeast through Tuesday, according to the National Weather Service.

Texas does not often experience large amounts of snowfall and has been especially hard-hit with the freezing weather — with its gas-based power infrastructure particularly disrupted, experts said.

Power has since been restored to thousands in the state, though nearly half a million people were still without power as of Thursday morning, according to PowerOutage.us.

Many in the state have also been issued boil-water notices as a result of the weather.

Cruz previously mocked other states for their handling of natural disasters, in particular California's power outages. (He has also criticized politicians who took leisure time during a crisis, according to CNN.)

Earlier this week he acknowledged his past comments about California.

"I got no defense," the Republican wrote on Twitter the day before the photos of him at the airport began circulating. "A blizzard strikes Texas & our state shuts down. Not good."