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Ted Cruz railed against "cancel culture" and mocked criticism of his trip to Mexico while his home state of Texas endured freezing conditions and power blackouts as he addressed the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) on Friday.
The Texas senator was widely criticised last week for taking a family trip to Cancun, Mexico while millions in his state went without heat or water after severe winter weather crippled power supplies.
He cut his trip short and apologised for the trip after facing a public backlash.
As he addressed CPAC attendees in Orlando, Florida, Mr Cruz began by referencing the controversy, joking: "Orlando is awesome. It's not as nice as Cancun - but it's nice." The comments were met with laughter from the audience.
At the same time as Mr Cruz was delivering his remarks, Mr Biden and the First Lady Jill Biden were travelling to Texas to visit victims of the storm damage and discuss recovery efforts after it was declared a major disaster last week.
Mr Biden was expected to be accompanied by the state's Republican governor, Greg Abbott, and Texas senator John Cornyn. It was not clear whether Mr Cruz intended to return to his state to greet the president.
The senator used his CPAC speech - his first since returning from Cancun - to hit back at what he called "cancel culture" in a stand-up style, high-energy speech during which he urged Americans to "have fun".
Mr Cruz also ridiculed health experts' advice on battling the coronavirus, saying: “We’re gonna wear masks for the next 300 years. And by the way, not just one mask - two, three, four - you can’t have too many masks. How much virtue do you wanna signal?”
“This is just dumb,” he added.
The senator also took aim at progressive Democrats Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, quipping: “Bernie is wearing mittens, and AOC is telling us she was murdered".
Mr Cruz went on to compare the Republican Party to the“rebel alliance” in Star Wars, and suggested the GOP's intra-party feud was being whipped up by Democrats and the media.
“The media desperately, desperately wants a Republican civil war,” he said. “Liberty is under assault and what are we going to do? I will tell you: We will fight”.
Mr Cruz, a likely 2024 presidential candidate, used the speaking slot to underscore his loyalty to Donald Trump, who is speaking at CPAC later this week.
“Let me tell you this right now, Donald J Trump ain’t going anywhere,” he said.
Conservative grassroots support for Mr Trump was on full display for the opening day of the annual gathering, with a golden statue of the former president (see above) greeting attendees at the Orlando conference centre where the annual gathering is taking place.
The conference has moved from its usual home in the suburbs of Washington to Florida because of coronavirus regulations.
However, CPAC organisers were heckled by the audience as they asked attendees to wear face masks.