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Ted Cruz, Nikki Haley step on banana peels on path to 2024

People angry over Sen. Ted Cruz's decision to

People angry over Sen. Ted Cruz's decision to go to Cancun amid the Texas heat, water and power outage protest Thursday near his Houston home. Credit: Houston Chronicle via AP / Marie D. De Jesús

Fails of tact and tactics

Ted Cruz and Nikki Haley are two of the better-known Republicans in the field of potential Republican 2024 candidates for the White House if — it's a big if — former President Donald Trump doesn't try for a comeback. While there are more than two and a half years to go before that primary season gets serious, both Cruz and Haley have stumbled out of the gate.

For Cruz, the pratfall was spectacular and self-inflicted. With his home state of Texas in crisis from a winter storm and catastrophic utility failures that have left millions freezing in the dark for several days, the second-term senator was spotted at the Houston airport Wednesday with his wife, Heidi, and two daughters jetting off for the warmth of Cancun, Mexico. Fellow travelers snapped photos that went viral on social media Wednesday night. Houston police, who have been coping with the emergency, confirmed that they sent officers to the airport to help smooth Cruz's departure, at the request of his staff.

By 6 a.m. Thursday, Cruz was hurriedly booking a quick return flight. (See video from Cancun here.) He did not admit in his first alibi statement that he originally planned to stay in Cancun through Sunday, which he acknowledged after returning home Thursday afternoon as more evidence emerged. His first statement said he made the trip because his daughters, 10 and 12, asked to go on a trip with friends while 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." Still in Cancun were the girls and Heidi Cruz, who had invited friends just before flying off to join them at the Ritz-Carlton there, according to text messages obtained by The New York Times.

The Texas Democratic Party called on Cruz to resign. "Ted Cruz jetting off to Mexico while Texans remain dying in the cold isn’t surprising, but it is deeply disturbing and disappointing," said Gilberto Hinojosa, the state's Democratic chairman. Hinojosa's Republican counterpart, Allen West, didn't exactly leap to Cruz's defense. "That’s something that he has to answer to his constituents about," West said. Cruz confessed late Thursday: "It was obviously a mistake and in hindsight, I wouldn't have done it."

The White House sent shade Cruz's way. "I don’t have any updates on the exact location of Sen. Ted Cruz nor does anyone at the White House," press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters. She added 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."

Now, on to Haley. She had tried in a series of interviews with Politico to straddle a middle ground between her longtime public praise of Trump, who she served as UN ambassador for nearly two years, and her sharp criticism of his conduct after he incited the deadly Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol insurrection. After the Politico report was published, angering MAGAland, she wrote a Wall Street Journal op-ed attacking "the liberal media" that "wants to stoke a nonstop Republican civil war."

The problem for Haley is that for Trump, there is no middle ground on absolute loyalty. Politico reports that Haley reached out to the former president on Wednesday to request a sit-down at Mar-a-Lago, but he turned her down. For now at least, having Trump as an enemy won't help her 2024 prospects.

Janison: The windmill-chill factor

The freak Texas freeze and electricity crisis have put the Lone Star State at the center of the partisan battle over navigating energy needs and climate change. Republican Gov. Greg Abbott blamed the widespread and prolonged power outages on the national movement toward green energy, which the Biden White House is making a priority, writes Newsday's Dan Janison.

"This shows how the Green New Deal would be a deadly deal for the United States of America," Abbott said Tuesday. "Our wind and our solar got shut down, and they were collectively more than 10% of our power grid, and that thrust Texas into a situation where it was lacking power on a statewide basis."

In fact, it was the state's gas, coal and nuclear power plants — as well as wind turbines — that largely were never winterized as is routine in normally colder climes to withstand a long, hard freeze. Earlier, Abbott had said the state's natural gas supply was "frozen in the pipeline."

As for Cruz's ill-timed Cancun getaway, there was no ideological guide to explain it away, but right-wing troll Dinesh D'Souza gave it a dizzying spin: Cruz was doing Texas a favor! "What could @tedcruz do if he were here in Texas?" D'Souza tweeted. "I’m hard-pressed to say. If he’s in Cancun, that means he’s not using up valuable resources of energy, food and water that can now be used by someone else. This is probably the best thing he could do for the state right now."

Even the weather itself elicited a fringe conspiracy story that spread on Facebook and went like this: Biden secretly seeded clouds, altering the jet stream, to send the winter storm Texas' way.

Biden unveils ambitious immigration overhaul

Biden and congressional Democrats unveiled a broad bill to remake immigration policy on Thursday that would provide an eight-year pathway to citizenship for 11 million people living in the country without legal status.

But the legislation faces an uphill climb in a narrowly divided Congress, where House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has just a 5-vote margin and Senate Democrats do not have the 60 votes needed to pass the measure without attracting some Republican support. So Democrats are already talking about moving the immigration legislation in pieces to make gains where they have the best chance.

"Even though I support full, comprehensive immigration reform, I’m ready to move on piecemeal, because I don’t want to end up with good intentions on my hands and not have anything," said Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas). "I’d rather have progress." The package of proposals includes an increase in visas, more money to process asylum applications, new technology at the southern border and funding for economic development in Latin American countries.

"I’ve laid out my vision for what it’ll take to reform our immigration system and I look forward to working with leaders in Congress to get this done," a statement from Biden said.

New deportation guidelines

The Biden administration issued new guidance Thursday, instructing deportation agents to focus enforcement on apprehending recent border-crossers as well as undocumented immigrants determined to threaten national security and public safety, CBS News reported. For other arrests, Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers are required to seek supervisory approval.

The memo marks a significant shift from the deportation and arrest policies of the Trump administration, which rescinded Obama-era limits on ICE operations and rendered most undocumented immigrants vulnerable to being apprehended.

The Biden administration has so far retained a Trump-era pandemic-related authority to expel most recent border-crossers, including asylum-seekers.

Pandemic cut U.S. life expectancy

In the first half of 2020, while some naysayers were arguing COVID-19 was no worse than a seasonal flu, Americans' life expectancy shrank by an entire year as the disease began to ravage the country, according to federal health data published Thursday. It was the sharpest decline since World War II.

The numbers also reflect a rise in deaths from drug overdoses, heart attacks and other diseases that accompanied the outbreak.

Black and Hispanic Americans were hit harder than whites, reflecting the racial disparities of the coronavirus pandemic, according to the new analysis. Compared with the first half of 2019, Black Americans lost 2.7 years of life expectancy, and Hispanics lost 1.9 years. Life expectancy for whites fell by 0.8 years. The National Center for Health Statistics did not include figures for any other racial groups, reports The Washington Post. (See the federal report.)

The expected life span for Americans overall was 77.8 years in the first half of 2020, down one year from 78.8 in 2019. For males, the average life expectancy was 75.1 years, and for females, who tend to have higher life expectancies, it was 80.5 years.

More coronavirus news

See a roundup of the latest regional pandemic developments on Long Island and beyond by Newsday's Bart Jones and Rachelle Blidner. For a full list of Newsday's coronavirus stories, click here.

What else is happening:

  • Ivanka Trump told Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio last month that contrary to rumors, she would not mount a primary challenge to his reelection bid in 2022, Politico reported. The former president's daughter "offered her support for Marco’s reelection and they had a great talk," a Rubio spokesperson.
  • The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office hired a prominent former federal prosecutor, Mark F. Pomerantz, to help scrutinize financial dealings at Donald Trump's company as it steps up the criminal investigation of the former president, according to The New York Times.
  • Six Capitol Police officers have been suspended with pay for their actions in the Jan. 6 riot, and 29 others have been placed under investigation, a department spokesman said Thursday.
  • The Biden administration said Thursday it’s ready to join talks with Iran and world powers to discuss a return to the 2015 nuclear deal, in a sharp repudiation of Trump’s "maximum pressure campaign" that sought to isolate the Islamic Republic.
  • Former Sen. Bob Dole, 97, revealed Thursday he has been diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer and will undergo treatment beginning next week. Dole, a combat hero in World War II and a former Senate Republican leader, was his party's presidential nominee in 1996, losing to Bill Clinton.

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