Opinion: Ted Cruz escapes the storm as Texans freeze during crisis

Liam Flynn, Staff Writer

The 2021 Texas power crisis has been ongoing since the middle of February, involving mass utility failures, such as power outages, water and food shortages and dangerous weather conditions. 

The crisis was the result of two severe winter storms sweeping across the United States on Feb. 10–11 and Feb. 13–17. More than 4.3 million homes and businesses in Texas were left without power, some for several days. 

The cause of the power outages was initially blamed on frozen wind turbines by some Republican government officials, including Texas Governor Greg Abbott, but frozen natural gas lines and instruments proved to be the main cause. The crisis caused many experts to call into question the state’s preparedness for such a storm, especially in light of its deregulated energy market. 

Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz has sparked an outcry after the media found that he left the state for a trip to the sunny Mexican tourist resort of Cancún, as millions of his constituents continued to endure deadly power outages and freezing temperatures. 

Sen. Cruz was spotted waiting for, then later boarding, a flight to Cancún. After photos of Sen. Cruz on the plane went viral on Twitter amid mounting criticism, the senator returned to Texas, saying the trip was “obviously a mistake.” The senator moved quickly to try to contain the self-inflicted damage. In a statement issued more than twelve hours after he was sighted, Sen. Cruz claimed he had taken the nearly 1,000-mile flight to Cancún merely to accompany his daughters on the plane.

Sen. Cruz’s statement contradicted reports that the senator, who appeared to be accompanied by his wife, had originally been booked to return on that Saturday, before hastily changing his flight on that Thursday morning. He also called the deadly emergency that has affected millions “an infuriating week for Texans.”

Meanwhile, text messages obtained by The New York Times appeared to show the trip had been planned at short notice. Messages repeatedly sent by Sen. Cruz’s wife, Heidi Cruz, described their house as “FREEZING” and invited others on a group message thread to join them at the Ritz-Carlton in Cancún. The morality of Sen. Cruz’s Mexican sojourn came under further scrutiny when it was reported that Sen. Cruz directed police to help him travel through Houston airport.

A photo shared on Twitter sparked sustained outrage at Sen. Cruz, seemingly traveling with his wife waiting to board a flight to Cancún. Others purportedly showed Sen. Cruz sitting on the plane.

Sen. Cruz, who is normally a prolific tweeter, remained silent as the news of the vacation broke. But behind the scenes, the senator changed his plans and scrambled to return to his besieged state, The New York Times reported.

Sen. Cruz’s statement, issued from Mexico, contradicted the reporting of the Times, and multiple other outlets. 

“With school canceled for the week, our girls asked to take a trip with friends,” Sen. Cruz said. “Wanting to be a good dad, I flew down with them last night and am flying back this afternoon.” 

Sen. Cruz said he and his staff were in “constant communication with state and local leaders” about the crisis in Texas.

A journalist for the travel news outlet Skift had earlier reported that Sen. Cruz was originally due to return on Saturday, but that he had booked a flight at 6 a.m. on Thursday to return that day.

The Cancún trip comes as millions of Texans remain without power after a snowstorm swept through parts of the state. People in Austin and Houston have spent days coping with blackouts, and in some cases, a lack of running water, as subzero temperatures grip the region. 

Hour-long queues have formed at grocery stores as people try to find food, and at least 20 people have died. Emergency services have faced being overwhelmed by the storm and were further stretched when Sen. Cruz’s team requested Houston police aid him as he arrived at the city’s Houston Bush airport.

“Cruz’s staff contacted (Houston police department) personnel at (Houston airport) on Wednesday … and requested assistance upon the senator’s arrival at the airport,” police told ABC News. “HPD officers monitored his movements through the terminal.”

Photos showed Sen. Cruz, a prominent right-wing supporter of Donald Trump who opposed the former president’s most recent impeachment, dressed in casual attire at the airport and wearing a “come and take it” face mask.

Sen. Cruz now faces criticism of hypocrisy after he had urged Texans to “just stay home” during a radio interview on Monday, as the dangerous winter storm approached the state. In December, Sen. Cruz attacked Stephen Adler, the Democratic mayor of Austin, for taking a trip to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Texas Democratic Party has called on Sen. Cruz, who was narrowly re-elected to the U.S. Senate in 2018, to resign after news of the Cancún trip broke, while Gene Wu, a Democratic Texas State Representative, was among those to criticize Sen. Cruz on Twitter.

“Guess which U.S. Senator from Texas flew to Cancún while the state was freezing to death and having to boil water?” Wu wrote. 

Soon after, protestors gathered outside his home, also calling on him to resign.

While Sen. Cruz was dealing with the fallout from his trip, two of his Democratic political nemeses, Beto O’Rourke and New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, raised money and offered resources to Texans hit hard by the winter storm. Ocasio-Cortez, a Democratic congresswoman from New York who has frequently sparred with Sen. Cruz, launched a fundraiser on Twitter and raised $1 million.

“Wow. We officially raised $1 million for Texas relief at 9:17 p.m.,” she tweeted. “Thank you all so much. Folded hands I’m at a loss for words. Always in awe of movement work.” 

She tweeted that the figure had risen to $2 million, and she announced she was going to fly to Houston to join with Texas Rep. Sylvia Garcia to distribute supplies. Ocasio-Cortez is using Act Blue to fundraise, a Democratic fundraising tool that helps her build an email list as she receives donations.

Meanwhile, O’Rourke, who unsuccessfully challenged Sen. Cruz in the Texas 2018 Senate race, ran a virtual phone bank to contact senior citizens in Texas to connect them with resources during the disaster. 

“BIG THANKS to the volunteers who made over 784,000 phone calls to senior citizens in Texas today,” he tweeted. “You helped to connect them with water, food, transportation and shelter. And you made sure that they knew we were thinking about them and that they matter to us.”

While Sen. Cruz was facing criticism, his fellow Republican Sen. John Cornyn was tweeting and retweeting news and guidance for Texans to follow, including a message from the right-leaning R Street Institute, which at one point during the height of the scandal Thursday tweeted, “Meanwhile, @JohnCornyn’s Twitter feed is full of helpful news and resources for Texas.” 

Cornyn’s office denied that it was trying to draw a contrast with Sen. Cruz’s handling of the crisis.

Sen. Cruz’s office insisted he worked to help the people of Texas ahead of the storm by communicating with local and state leaders before traveling to Cancún. After returning to Houston on Thursday afternoon, Sen. Cruz told reporters outside his home it was “obviously a mistake” and that “in hindsight, I wouldn’t have done it.”

With the sounds of nearby protesters audible, Sen. Cruz said he understood the anger many Texans feel toward his decision. 

“Of course, I understand why people are upset,” Sen. Cruz said. “Listen, we’re in a strange time where Twitter’s been going crazy, and the media is going crazy, and there’s a lot of venom and vitriol that I think is unfortunate frankly on both sides. I think everyone ought to treat each other with respect and decency and try to understand each other more particularly at a time of crisis.”

During all of the pandemonium, O’Rourke tweeted, “State leaders don’t get to say that they didn’t see this coming. Energy experts and State House Dems, among others, were warning of this for years. (Gov. Greg) Abbott chose to ignore the facts, the science and the tough decisions, and now Texans will once again pay the price.”

It is not a good look at all for Sen. Cruz, as many people are realizing that his Democratic foe O’Rourke is doing more for the state of Texas than he is, even though Sen. Cruz was elected to represent and lead Texans through these crises. It is safe to say that many Texas citizens could be regretting their decision and potentially looking elsewhere in the upcoming 2024 Senate elections. 

O’Rourke was awfully close to beating Sen. Cruz in 2018. This could mean more votes for whichever Democratic candidate decides to run against the two-term senator. 

I would imagine that many people affected by this weather crisis would agree with me in hoping that Texas does not make the same mistake twice.