HOUSTON - U.S. Senator Ted Cruz explained his controversial trip to Cancun, Mexico this week as millions of his constituents were suffering without power, heat or running water during a historic winter storm.
Sen. Cruz addressed questions at his home in the River Oaks neighborhood of Houston Thursday.
The senator said he went to chaperone his young daughters who wanted to escape the cold, and so he could be a good father.
But Sen. Cruz said he felt guilty as soon as he left and decided to come back early to help solve the crises.
"When I arrived and saw the initial firestorm, what had started with second thoughts that I had as soon as we left, grew even greater. And I certainly regret that this has become a distraction when at a time, so many Texans are hurting and frustrated and mad," Sen. Cruz said.
"Frankly, leaving when so many Texans were hurting, didn’t feel right so I changed my return flight and flew back on the first available flight I could take," Sen. Cruz continued.
Sen. Cruz said he tested negative for COVID-19 Thursday morning, prior to his departure from Cancun.
Several of his constituents were outraged.
Hours after his return to Houston, some plastered giant ads on moving trucks saying "Texans froze. Ted fled."
Others showed up to the airport with signs that said "24 dead, Ted" -- emphasizing the devastating effects of the storm.
"He may not be able to turn on a switch to fix the problem today, but he could show up, stand beside people who are losing their homes, who lost their relatives," said Mary K. Hoffman.
"He shouldn’t be leaving the state on a vacation when the rest of us are freezing. I just got power on after 36 hours. I’m over it. We need some help. We don’t need our state leaders to go on vacation," said Cindy Durham.
"I think it’s really horrible of a person to go to Cancun when your constituents are here in Houston and in Texas, and Texans are suffering, said Carla Henry, who was on the senator's flight back from Cancun.
Passengers on Sen. Cruz's return flight said the senator left George Bush Airport through another exit, to avoid confronting reporters.
Reporter Natalie Hee FaceTimed into the news briefing.
"Senator Cruz, a lot of people are calling your decision to go to Cancun during this time "tone-deaf." Did you come back because you felt guilty or did you come back because you got caught and got a lot of backlash for going?" asked Hee.
"So the question from the video of the cell phone was whether the decision to go was 'tone-deaf.' Look, it was obviously a mistake. In hindsight, I wouldn’t have done it. I was trying to be a dad. And all of us have made decisions -- when you have two girls that have been cold for two days and haven’t had heat or power, and they’re saying hey, look, we don’t have school, why don’t we go? Let’s get out of here! I think there’d be a lot of parents that’d say all right, let me see if I can do this, great," Cruz said.
Cruz has served in the US Senate for eight years.
Cruz was criticized for asking Houston Police Officers to escort him through the terminal when resources were already depleted with the winter storm.