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Four takeaways from Biden’s visit to Baltimore bridge crash site

President: ‘I call on Congress to authorize this effort as soon as possible’

Marine One, carrying President Biden, makes an aerial tour of the collapsed Francis Scott Key Bridge and the container ship Dali in Baltimore on Friday.
Marine One, carrying President Biden, makes an aerial tour of the collapsed Francis Scott Key Bridge and the container ship Dali in Baltimore on Friday. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images)

ANALYSIS — President Joe Biden again pressed Congress to back his call for the federal government to pay the full cost to rebuild Baltimore’s Francis Scott Key Bridge as he stressed the economic impact of the container ship crash that closed the Port of Baltimore.

Biden also played the role of consoler in chief on Friday, reassuring state officials and workers, thanking first-responders and speaking with family members of the six road repair workers killed in the incident. Biden flew on Marine One over the wrecked bridge that continues to rest on the ship and block the port. The ship, the Dali, had malfunctioned after leaving the port, and its crew radioed a mayday call in time for police to halt traffic from entering the bridge early the morning of March 26, preventing a higher death toll.

“Your nation has your back,” Biden, wearing a dark ball cap and blue bubble jacket with the presidential logo, told an invited audience, as the Dali and twisted bridge sat in the distance behind him. “And I mean that.”

The president had gotten a birds-eye view of the crash site, similar to one posted by a Reuters reporter who was part of the traveling press pool accompanying him in a separate aircraft.

The situation has allowed team Biden to tout the bipartisan infrastructure law the president negotiated with GOP and Democratic lawmakers. Friday’s visit also allowed Biden, who lost his first wife and a daughter in a car accident, to flash his empathic side as he addressed the workers who were killed, some of whom were immigrants.

“We’ve come here to grieve with you. … I’ve been there,” Biden said. “The day will come when the memory of your loved one … is going to bring a smile to your face before it brings a tear to your eye. … It will come.”

Here are four takeaways from Biden’s visit to Baltimore and the crash site.

‘We’re coming back’

The president repeated his pledge for the federal government to pay for the total bill of rebuilding the structure — “all of it,” he said.

“I call on Congress to authorize this effort as soon as possible,” Biden said. “My vow is that we will not rest … until the cement is dry and the entirety of a new bridge” is built.

Biden said a top priority of the federal response is to reopen the Port of Baltimore “as quickly as possible.”

He announced $8 million for upgrades to a former steel mill called Sparrows Point, which has been refurbished into an industrial facility that can handle a few cargo ships at a time. Those dollars are intended to ensure it can “take on more ships,” he said.

He also predicted the entire shipping channel on the Patapsco River would be reopened “by the end of May.”

“We’re coming back,” he said. “And we’re coming back soon.”

‘Temporary channel’

Among the lawmakers present during Biden’s visit was Maryland Democratic Sen. Chris Van Hollen, one of the most vocal critics from inside Biden’s party about his handling of Israel’s conduct of its war in Gaza.

The duo was face-to-face Friday, though focused on domestic matters.

Van Hollen and other Democratic senators last month wrote to Biden, urging him to enforce a U.S. law banning foreign aid to countries deemed to be blocking humanitarian aid. In recent weeks, White House officials have publicly accused Israel of doing just that.

Ahead of Biden’s visit, Van Hollen tweeted that “a temporary channel is expected to open as soon as the end of this month & the main channel by end of May.”

That could allow the Port of Baltimore to, at least partially, reopen.

Van Hollen spoke before Biden, crediting the president and his administration for “working with all levels of government to get it done.”

Van Hollen said Biden has stressed helping the people most impacted by the crash. “I’m so proud we have the president back in Baltimore,” he said. “I’m sorry about the circumstances.”

The state’s senior senator, retiring Democrat Benjamin L. Cardin, spoke through heavy wind, saying “we are already planning to rebuild the bridge.” He expressed the importance of doing so, saying the state has undergone a considerable hike in the size of its automobile population in recent years.

‘Largest port’

Joining Biden on Marine One for the aerial tour of the crash site was Maryland Gov. Wes Moore. He was in the presidential motorcade Friday as Biden was driven from Martin State Airport Landing Zone in Middle River, Md., to nearby Dundalk, which is adjacent to the fallen bridge.

And Moore stood beside Biden, just off the president’s left shoulder, as he delivered remarks.

The 45-year-old governor is dealing with his first major state crisis since taking office in January 2023. The matter has given him a national profile as political analysts begin to imagine a party post-Biden.

Even before Biden departed the White House, Moore was continuing to push his message, which he has at times directed at spending-skeptical Republican lawmakers that port closure is “not just something that’s impacting Baltimore.”

“The port of Baltimore is responsible for $70 billion annually,” he told MSNBC. “We are looking at a port that is the largest port for agricultural equipment, the largest port for new cars, the largest port for heavy trucks, the largest ports for spices and sugars.

“This is impacting the farmer in Kentucky. It’s impacting the auto dealer in Ohio,” he added. “It’s impacting the restaurant owner in Tennessee. It’s impacting the entire country and our economic growth.”

Speaking before Biden, Moore said leaders are “doubling down on their commitment to this city and this state.” He said he had secured the assurances that impacted businesses have agreed to retain workers, rather than laying them off to reduce costs while their profits are down. Moore also touted economic aid his administration has made available for affected individuals and businesses.

President Biden speaks Friday about the collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge after it was struck by the container ship Dali last week, with Maryland Gov. Wes Moore looking on at right. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, also a rising Democratic star, praised Moore’s role since the Dali rammed into the bridge.

Buttigieg said lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic supply chain disruption “are working here,” but he did not offer estimates for when the bridge might be cleared nor when construction on a replacement could begin. Nor did he say when officials think the port might be reopened.

‘Abandoning Israel?’

The presidency means juggling multiple crises.

Foreign and domestic.

Biden appeared to dismiss the notion that his pressure on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to alter course in Gaza means he is abandoning Israel. When asked by a reporter if he was doing just that, Biden responded as he was leaving the White House: “Is that a serious question?”

“I asked them to do what they’re doing,” Biden said, apparently referring to Israel’s decision to allow increased aid into Gaza.

U.S. officials are still examining whether Israel has made adequate changes to its procedures for selecting and engaging targets in the enclave, a senior official said Friday morning.

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