Biden promises to rebuild Key Bridge

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With the wreckage of Baltimore’s Francis Scott Key Bridge behind him, President Joe Biden on Friday promised the city that the “nation has your back” in rebuilding the bridge and reopening its pivotal port.

Biden reiterated that the federal government would cover the full cost of repairs, even as conservatives in the House balk at the idea. But he added that the U.S. would pursue damages from “responsible” parties, without naming them.

“My administration is committed, absolutely committed, to ensuring that parties responsible for this tragedy pay to repair the damage and be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law will allow, but I also want to be clear: We will support Maryland and Baltimore every step of the way to help you rebuild and maintain all the business and commerce that's here now,” he said at the foot of the downed bridge, with the wind whipping behind him.

The president’s visit comes nearly two weeks after the mammoth container ship “Dali” plowed into the structure, causing much of the nearly 9,000-foot bridge to collapse into the Patapsco River and killing six construction workers. On Friday, he got an aerial tour of the bridge site with Gov. Wes Moore, received a briefing from emergency workers and met with family members of those killed in the collapse.

Biden, who said he traces his family back to the “watermen” who worked Chesapeake Bay in the mid-1800s, said that as a senator, he frequently used the bridge to commute between Delaware and D.C.

Part of the waterway is expected to reopen by the end of the month and a more significant channel to the port by the end of May, according to new estimates from the Army Corps of Engineers.

The president said the federal government’s first priority is reopening the port and protecting the 20,000 jobs that rely on its commerce. He called on companies with employees in the area to stay open and maintain payroll. Some of them have already done so.

And the president pledged to “move heaven and Earth to rebuild this bridge as rapidly as humanly possible and we’re going to do so with union labor and American steel.”

The administration and state officials have not yet released an estimated cost of the rebuild. Administration officials on Friday asked Congress to agree to cover 100 percent of the price tag, instead of requiring the state to contribute to the tab.

While Congress approved the same procedure in 2007 to pay for the reconstruction of a vital bridge in Minnesota, conservatives have already thrown up obstacles this time.

The House Freedom Caucus on Friday said that any funding for the bridge needs to be “fully offset” and suggested that, in exchange for any funding, the administration should lift its moratorium on natural gas export projects. Speaker Mike Johnson has separately condemned the gas export moratorium. The group also wants the administration to seek “maximum liability” from the Singapore-based ship’s owner upfront.

But the state’s largely Democratic congressional delegation is pushing for a speedy action in Congress.

“We can’t wait for those dollars,” said Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) shortly before Biden spoke.