DALLAS — Texas Sen. Ted Cruz said his family vacation to Mexico was "obviously a mistake" as he returned stateside Thursday following an uproar over his disappearance during a deadly winter storm.
The Republican senator said he began second-guessing the trip since the moment he first got on the plane Wednesday. "In hindsight, I wouldn't have done it," he told reporters.
The Associated Press and other media outlets reported that he had traveled out of the country with his family as hundreds of thousands of Texans were still grappling with the fallout of a winter storm that crippled the state's power grid. The trip drew criticism from leaders in both parties and was seen as potentially damaging to his future political ambitions.
Cruz said in an earlier statement Thursday that he accompanied his family to Cancun a day earlier after his daughters asked to go on a trip with friends, given that school was canceled for the week.
"Wanting to be a good dad, I flew down with them last night and am flying back this afternoon," Cruz wrote.
"My staff and I are in constant communication with state and local leaders to get to the bottom of what happened in Texas," he continued. "We want our power back, our water on, and our homes warm."
Cruz told reporters Thursday night that he returned to the U.S. because he realized he needed to be in Texas. He said he had originally been scheduled to stay in Mexico through the weekend.
"I didn't want all the screaming and yelling about this trip to distract even one moment from the real issues that I think Texans care about, which is keeping all of our families safe," Cruz said.
"It was obviously a mistake, and in hindsight, I wouldn't have done it," he said.
The fierce political backlash comes as Cruz eyes a second presidential run in 2024. He was already one of the most villainized Republicans in Congress, having created adversaries across the political spectrum in a career defined by far-right policies and fights with the establishment.
More recently, he emerged as a leader in former President Donald Trump's push to overturn the results of the November election. Billboards calling for his resignation stood along Texas highways earlier in the month.
Even the state Republican Party chair declined to come to Cruz's defense on Thursday.
"That's something that he has to answer to his constituents about," Texas GOP Chair Allen West said when asked whether Cruz's travel was appropriate while Texans are without power and water.
"I'm here trying to take care of my family and look after my friends and others that are still without power," West said. "That's my focus."
Hundreds of thousands of people in Texas woke up Thursday to a fourth day without power, and a water crisis was unfolding after winter storms wreaked havoc on the state's power grid and utilities.
Texas officials ordered 7 million people — one-quarter of the population of the nation's second-largest state — to boil tap water before drinking the water, after days of record low temperatures that damaged infrastructure and froze pipes.
In Austin, some hospitals faced a loss in water pressure and, in some cases, heat.
News of Cruz's absence quickly rippled across the state.
Livia Trevino, a 24-year-old whose Austin home was still without water Thursday, said she felt abandoned by government leaders.
"They are taking vacations and leaving the country, so they don't have to deal with this, and we are freezing to death. We don't have water and we don't have food," she said.
In his statement, Cruz said that his family had lost heat and power as well.
"This has been an infuriating week for Texans," he said.
While the situation will not help Cruz's political future, the two-term senator is not in any immediate political danger. His current term expires in early 2025, and the unofficial beginning of the next Republican presidential primary election is two years away.
Still, Democrats across Washington were eager to talk about the controversy.
One of Cruz's most aggressive critics on the left, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, encouraged her supporters on Thursday to volunteer for a "welfare check phone bank" to help Texans affected by the storm.
"So many elected leaders in Texas have failed their constituents," the New York Democrat wrote in an email. "Instead of focusing on relief, they've chosen to go on Fox News to spread lies or to board a plane to Cancun."
Earlier in the day, White House press secretary Jen Psaki leaned into a question about Cruz's "whereabouts."
"I don't have any updates on the exact location of Sen. Ted Cruz nor does anyone at the White House," Psaki said, adding that President Joe Biden's administration is focused on "working directly with leadership in Texas and surrounding states on addressing the winter storm and the crisis at hand."
Cruz's office declined to answer specific questions about the family vacation, but his staff reached out to the Houston Police Department on Wednesday afternoon to say the senator would be arriving at the airport, according to department spokesperson Jodi Silva. She said officers "monitored his movements" while Cruz was at the airport.
Silva could not say whether such requests are typical for Cruz's travel or whether his staff had made a similar request for his return flight.
U.S. Capitol Police officials and the Senate sergeant-at-arms have encouraged lawmakers and their staff to be conscious of potential threats and to consider advising law enforcement about their travel at airports and other transportation hubs.
Cruz's office did not immediately say whether the senator would self-quarantine. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises people who have traveled during the pandemic to get a coronavirus test three to five days after their return and to quarantine for a full week, regardless of the test results.
Cruz checked in for his return flight Thursday afternoon in Cancun and walked briskly through the terminal pulling a roller bag to security. He wore a golf shirt, jeans and a face mask in the style of the Texas state flag.
The senator was accompanied by a Spanish-speaking man wearing a black polo shirt with the name and logo of The Ritz-Carlton hotel chain.
Cruz told reporters that he planned to "go home and keep working to get the grid reopened, to get power restored, to get the water back on."
"A lot of Texans are hurting and this crisis is frustrating. It's frustrating for millions of Texans. It shouldn't happen," he said.