Republican Rep. Tom Cole, whose district took a direct hit from a powerful tornado on Monday, said the residents of the tornado ravaged towns in Oklahoma need help, not a political battle over funding in Washington.
“Once a disaster starts, to me that’s the end of a discussion. Now we need to focus on the Americans that are in a difficult spot,” Cole told ABC News in an interview today. “They don’t need to be watching a big political battle, they need to be sure they’re getting help.”
Cole is one of only two members of Oklahoma’s seven-person Congressional delegation that voted in favor of a bill funding disaster aid after Superstorm Sandy, raising questions about whether they would change their stance on emergency funding in light of a tragedy in their own state.
Oklahoma’s Republican Sen. Tom Coburn on Monday reiterated his opposition to funding disaster relief without first identifying corresponding budget cuts, if Congress is forced to allocate additional funds.
Cole said he believes that the $11 billion the Federal Emergency Management Fund has in its disaster relief fund should be enough to cover the rebuilding and relief efforts in Oklahoma. But he added that, like with Sandy, relief should come first.
“You have to remember in Oklahoma, in my district or any place, you’re one tornado away from being Joplin [Missouri],” Cole said. “I don’t begrudge other people. I know they’re trying to do the right thing.”
But he added that he’s always felt strongly about disaster aid.
“I felt exactly the same way about [Hurricane] Katrina, and we spent as much money on Katrina as we did on Sandy, if not more,” he said.
Cole spoke to ABC News from the ground in Oklahoma, where he said the federal and local response has been “swift and robust.”
“The feds have been terrific. The resources have been there and the response has been excellent,” said Cole, who toured the devastated region along with the other members of the state’s Congressional delegation.
Cole’s hometown of Moore, Okla., was nearly destroyed by the mile-wide storm. Cole said he had memories of working as a teenager at one of the local schools that was all but destroyed by the storm.
“Now you can’t think about it without thinking about the horror that happened there,” Cole said. “The school was the safest, calmest building in the immediate area. Everybody made the right choice, they were just in the wrong place at the wrong time.
“There’s not a lot that can stand up to an F4 or an F5 [tornado],” he added.
Cole said that after speaking with President Obama on Monday night he is confident the White House and the Republican-controlled House of Representatives will do what it takes to provide assistance to his constituents.
“A Democratic president and a Republican majority leader … I think they’ll do the right thing and the congressmen will follow their lead,” Cole said.