By Russell Berman - 05/21/13 02:34 PM EDT
Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) choked up as he offered prayers for the people of Oklahoma on Tuesday after tornadoes that ripped through the state left dozens of people dead.
The tornado devastated Cole’s hometown of Moore, Okla., destroying a hospital, two elementary schools and killing at least 24 people, authorities said. Cole returned to Oklahoma on Tuesday morning.
Boehner and other Republican leaders pledged to help the communities rebuild, but the Speaker immediately faced questions about whether the House would seek to offset any new disaster aid with spending cuts, as conservatives have pushed for after other recent calamities.
“We’ll work with the administration on making sure that they have the resources they need to help the people of Oklahoma,” Boehner said.
The Speaker repeated his answer when pressed on the issue, and he deflected reporters' questions that were directed at Republican members of the Oklahoma delegation, who also attended the press conference.
The question of offsetting spending cuts for disaster aid divided the Republican conference in January after Hurricane Sandy struck the Northeast in late 2012.
The majority of House Republicans voted against a $50 billion relief package, citing the lack of offsets, and drawing criticism from members of both parties who warned conservatives that the vote would haunt them if disaster struck their districts.
Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) wants federal aid to be offset by spending cuts elsewhere, according to multiple reports.
Aides to the senator say he's been consistent on that position in previous Oklahoma disasters like the Oklahoma City bombing recovery effort.
Coburn previously opposed sending federal disaster aid to states hit by Hurricane Sandy.
Similarly Coburn's colleague, Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) also voted against Sandy aid. In an interview on MSNBC on Tuesday Inhofe said aid for the Oklahoma tornado would be different.
"That was totally different," Inhofe said. "They were getting things — for instance, that was supposed to be in New Jersey, they had things in the Virgin Islands, they were fixing roads there. They were putting roofs on houses in Washington D.C. Every one was getting in and exporting the tragedy that took place. That won't happen, in Oklahoma."
Daniel Strauss contributed
Updated at 11:30 a.m.