Speaking in front of the Patapsco River and the wreckage of the Francis Scott Key Bridge Collapse, President Joe Biden reiterated his desire for the federal government to pay for a new bridge and shared condolences with the families of the construction workers who died.

“We’ve come here to grieve with you. We all are,” Biden said.

Biden’s remarks began after he surveyed from a helicopter the damage to the bridge. He said the federal government would keep working to recover the three missing construction workers and said the support would not stop then.

“We’re going to move heaven and earth to rebuild this bridge as rapidly as humanly possible,” Biden said as a blustery wind blew through nearby flags. “And we’re going to do so with union labor and American steel.”

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The president called on Congress to authorize the necessary spending for a new span as soon as possible.

President Joe Biden visits the site of the Francis Scott Key Bridge collapse on April 5, 2024. He held a press conference with Gov. Wes Moore, Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott, U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. (Kaitlin Newman/The Baltimore Banner)

He also said the administration is “absolutely committed to ensuring the parties responsible for this tragedy pay to repair the damage and be held accountable to the fullest extent the law will allow.”

Biden connected his own experience of grieving the loss of loved ones with the families of the six construction workers who died.

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“It’s not the same, but I know a little bit about what it’s like to lose a piece of your soul, to get that phone call in the middle of the night to say family members are gone. I’ve been there,” Biden said. “It’s feeling like having a black hole in your chest. Like you’re being sucked in, unable to breathe, the anger, the pain.”

But he assured the families there will come a day when the memories of their loved ones will “bring a smile to your lips before it brings a tear to your eye.”

“Our prayers for you is that the time comes sooner rather than later,” Biden said. “But it will come.”

After the press conference, Biden met privately with loved ones and family members of those who died during the bridge collapse. Hours after Biden finished speaking, the family of one of the construction workers, Maynor Suazo Sandova, told The Baltimore Banner his remains had been pulled from the river.

An aerial tour began shortly after 1 p.m. and included two full circles around the jumbled mess of boats, cranes and containers.

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President Joe Biden visits the site of the Francis Scott Key Bridge collapse on April 5, 2024. He held a press conference with Gov. Wes Moore, Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott, U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. (Kaitlin Newman/The Baltimore Banner)

Biden was accompanied on his aerial tour of the site by Maryland Gov. Wes Moore, the commandant of the United States Coast Guard and other officials.

The presidential visit came more than a week after a cargo ship, the Dali, crashed into the bridge in the early hours of March 26. The deadly incident has since paralyzed the Port of Baltimore, a key destination in the global supply chain that employs thousands of workers in the region.

Shortly before his remarks began, Biden was briefed on the salvage efforts to clean up the wreckage and get the Dali out of the channel.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Brig. Gen. John Lloyd highlighted one particular aspect of the salvage work: removing a 5,000-ton section of the Key Bridge that is sitting on top of the Dali.

Though famously a devoted Amtrak rider, Biden said he was no stranger to driving over the Key Bridge. He told the crowd Friday that a quarter of his trips commuting between Delaware and Washington, D.C., for 36 years were by car.

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Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott, one of Friday’s first speakers, called Biden Baltimore’s strongest partner in the effort to rebuild the bridge.

The Biden administration said its funding commitment is consistent with federal responses to other similar disasters, such as the 2007 collapse of the Interstate 35W bridge in Minnesota. Covering the cost of repairs may still require congressional approval.

Many “Road Closed” signs block off the entrance to the Key Bridge in Dundalk on Friday, April 5, 2024. (Kylie Cooper/The Baltimore Banner)

Two days after the collapse, the Biden administration announced $60 million in emergency funds as a “down payment” on the process for clearing the wreckage from the shipping channel and rebuilding the bridge. During his remarks Friday afternoon preceding those of Moore, U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said those funds could also be put toward advanced procurement and design for the future bridge.

“Opening the channel for the port and rebuilding the bridge are both remarkably complex operations that can’t happen overnight,” said Buttigieg. “But as President Biden has instructed from day one, the federal government will provide everything Maryland needs: funding resources, technical support, logistical help, and more, to get that port open and get that bridge rebuilt.”

In an interview with The Baltimore Banner earlier this week, Buttigieg said that given the entire cost of replacing the bridge is still unknown, it’s possible the Emergency Relief Fund would need supplemental dollars in order to cover the full cost.

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After Biden’s remarks on Friday, Sen. Chris Van Hollen told The Baltimore Banner that as part of the Emergency Relief Fund, the federal government “automatically” covers 90% of the costs related to the bridge replacement program.

“So, Senator [Ben] Cardin and I are going to work to make sure that we work to cover the other 10% of the cost,” Van Hollen said.

Van Hollen plans to introduce legislation in the coming days to help “meet the President’s pledge” of fully funding the replacement, but stressed that it should be repaid or supplemented by those found responsible once and if liability is determined by investigators. He also highlighted the need to increase overall funding for the Emergency Relief Program to ensure all states have access to what they need when disaster hits.

“I do think that on a bipartisan basis, Congress will see that we have a stake in doing it together,” he said.

On Friday morning, the U.S. Office of Management and Budget delivered a letter to House and Senate committee leaders requesting authorization for the federal government to pick up the costs of rebuilding the bridge not covered by insurance proceeds and damages.

Pieces of the road on the Key Bridge are still visible above water on April 4, 2024
Wreckage from the Key Bridge collapse remains in the water, choking off the Port of Baltimore more than a week after the tragedy. (Kaitlin Newman/The Baltimore Banner)

“We stand ready to work with the Congress to ensure the City of Baltimore and the State of Maryland has what it needs to rebuild the Francis Scott Key Bridge, which is critical to the Nation’s workers and economy,” office director Shalanda Young said in the letter.

Also on Friday, the conservative House Freedom Caucus released a letter putting several conditions on approving additional federal funds for the reconstruction.

The caucus, of which Maryland Rep. Andy Harris is a member, said Biden must lift his pause on approvals of liquified natural gas terminals, seek “maximum liability from the foreign shipping companies upfront” and use already-available federal funds before seeking additional money from Congress.

Harris, a Republican who represents the Eastern Shore, Harford County, Cecil County and part of Baltimore County, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Maryland tough, Baltimore strong

Earlier Friday, Moore’s office announced the formation of the “Maryland Tough Baltimore Strong Alliance,” a group of dozens of business and nonprofit groups that have made commitments to supporting everyone who has been affected by the Key Bridge collapse, including families, port workers, first responders, small businesses, and the surrounding communities.

Speaking just before Biden, Moore said many of the companies involved pledged to avoid laying off any workers because of the port closure, and to keep their business in Baltimore — or return it to Baltimore once the port reopens.

“And all have agreed to help us build a better future,” Moore said.

Gov. Wes Moore and President Joe Biden walk out of the Maryland Transportation Authority Police Headquarters in Dundalk for a press conference on Friday, April 5, 2024. (Kylie Cooper/The Baltimore Banner)

Moore also signed an executive order Friday that directs $60 million in state funding toward relief efforts following the collapse. Of that, $25 million comes from Maryland’s Rainy Day Fund and $35 million comes from existing agency budgets, according to Moore’s office.

The money is targeted toward multiple things, including grants of up to $100,000 for businesses directly affected by disruptions at the port, $12.5 million to a program at the Department of Labor to help businesses retain employees during the disruptions, and $15 million to a port worker support program at the Department of Labor to provide temporary financial support to workers.

The order also directs other state agencies to provide assistance and identify services and programs that could be offered to affected workers and businesses.

The Small Business Administration is also providing low-interest disaster loans to eligible businesses.

Ahead of Biden’s arrival, officials at the U.S. Department of Labor announced an initial award of $3.5 million in emergency dislocated worker grant funding to support cleanup and recovery activities surrounding the collapse.

Workers whose jobs are affected will have access to new training and could have their wages subsidized if they’re working in post-disaster employment, according to a statement from the Department of Labor. The money will come from grant funding, the department said.

“As President Biden has made clear, supporting the people who find themselves suddenly out of work after this disaster is an essential part of recovery efforts,” acting Secretary of Labor Julie Su said in a statement.

“Baltimore has been tested before. We get knocked down, we stand back up and we dust ourselves off and we move forward. That is what we do,” said Moore, before ceding the microphone to Biden.

Moore flanked Biden to his left during the President’s remarks and was often the first to break up Biden’s speech with applause.

“I say to my dad, ‘Dad, they’re mispronouncing Balmer,” Biden quipped when he first took the mic, sharing that his father was born and raised in Baltimore.

One of the construction workers who died in the bridge collapse had just left a message to his girlfriend saying, “We just poured cement. We’re waiting for it to dry,” Biden told the crowd on Friday. He said the six men who perished were Marylanders and their contributions to Baltimore should never be forgotten.

“My vow is that we will not rest ... until the cement has dried on the entirety of a new bridge,” said Biden.

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