Texas Senator Ted Cruz has acknowledged that he travelled to Mexico for a family holiday this week, leaving his home state as thousands struggled without power following a powerful winter storm.
The high-profile Republican, a potential White House candidate in 2024, said in a statement that he had accompanied his family after his daughters asked to go on a trip with friends, given that school was cancelled for the week.
“Wanting to be a good dad, I flew down with them last night and am flying back this afternoon,” Mr 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,” Mr Cruz said.
“We want our power back, our water on, and our homes warm.”
The revelation drew immediate criticism from Democrats and Republicans in Texas and beyond as Mr Cruz, a key ally of former president Donald Trump, contemplates the possibility of a second presidential run.
The two-term senator’s current term expires in early 2025.
“That’s something that he has to answer to his constituents about,” state Republican Party chairman Allen West said when asked whether Mr 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,” Mr West said. “That’s my focus.”
Hundreds of thousands of people in Texas woke up on 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 seven million people — one-quarter of the population of the nation’s second-largest state — to boil tap water before drinking it, 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.
Mr Cruz’s office declined to answer specific questions about the family holiday, 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 spokeswoman Jodi Silva.
She said officers “monitored his movements” while Mr Cruz was at the airport.
Ms Silva could not say whether such requests are typical for Mr Cruz’s travel or whether his staff has made a similar request for his return flight.
US 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.