Ted Cruz Insists He Flew to Cancún During Winter Storm to Accompany Daughters, Then Planned to Fly Back
"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 response to the backlash from his trip
Sen. Ted Cruz would like to try and explain.
In a statement to the press Thursday afternoon — not 24 hours after controversy ignited on social media when he was photographed at a Houston airport heading to Cancún, Mexico, while his home state was recovering from a deadly winter storm — Cruz, 50, said that he was just trying to be a good father to his two young daughters.
Like millions of other Texas residents, Cruz said his family had lost their heat and power in the severe winter weather, which has been linked to more than 20 deaths.
"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 his statement.
It's unclear why he was traveling during the COVID-19 pandemic. Federal health officials recommend against it but advise that if people do travel they should test negative within three days, wear a mask, socially distance and avoid crowds.
Citing a source, The New York Times reported that Cruz had headed to Mexico for "a previously planned family vacation."
NBC News reported, per a source, that Cruz scheduled his return flight to Texas on Thursday morning and cut short a trip that had originally been planned to last until Saturday.
It was also unclear why Cruz had asked for a police detail while leaving on Wednesday (or why he was traveling with a suitcase if he had always planned for a one-night trip).
A Houston police spokeswoman previously told 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 move was standard protocol for an elected official.
In his statement Thursday, 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."
Cruz returned to Houston on Thursday. He was met by photographers and news cameras on both ends of his journey.
In the day since photos circulated of his flight, the Republican lawmaker has faced significant blowback on social media and from Democrats who have repeatedly called on him to resign — most recently in the wake of his baseless objection to Joe Biden's presidential election victory.
The state's Democratic Party chairman said in a statement after his trip to Cancún that he was "proving to be an enemy to our state by abandoning us in our greatest time of need."
State Democrats also listed out what they said were steps Cruz could have taken to assist the state instead of traveling, such as working with the governor and the power authority.
"For the 21st time, the Texas Democratic Party calls on Ted Cruz to resign or be expelled from office," the chairman said in a statement. "Barring that, we will put all of the resources we have into defeating him and every Texas Republican who abandoned us in this disaster."
Cruz was similarly denounced on Twitter where he was alternately mocked and meme'd.
Some conservatives, however, defended him by saying he was not in charge of emergency response in Texas and that he could have done useful work from afar.
Beto O'Rourke, a former Texas lawmaker who unsuccessfully challenged Cruz in the 2018 election, criticized him in an MSNBC appearance.
O'Rourke said on Morning Joe that 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."
In a podcast interview on Monday, Cruz said then that his home had not lost power and his family was hosting other neighborhood children, according to The Dallas 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."
A spokesperson for him did not respond to PEOPLE's request for comment.