President Biden pledges to ‘move heaven and earth’ to rebuild Francis Scott Key Bridge

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BALTIMORE — President Joe Biden pledged Friday to fight for federal funding to rebuild the collapsed Francis Scott Key Bridge, promising to “move heaven and earth” during a Friday visit to the disaster site.

“We will do so with union labor and American steel,” Biden told a group of local officials and first responders gathered for his afternoon remarks at the Port of Baltimore.

That morning, Biden’s executive office had asked Congress to commit to fully cover the costs for rebuilding the bridge.

But a spokesperson for the House Republican majority declined to comment on Biden’s letter to the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure and the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. In an earlier statement, House Committee Chairman Sam Graves, R-Missouri, said that the committee needed to make sure they’re not “getting ahead of the facts.”

After Biden’s letter came out Friday, the conservative House Freedom Caucus issued conditions such as that some environmental and labor regulations be waived “to avoid all unnecessary delays and costs” if the federal government foots the bill.

Those signs of skepticism about the funding are raising worries among some Democrats.

“I was concerned about those remarks because they just don’t seem to meet the hour and the tragedy and the need,” Rep. Kweisi Mfume, D-Maryland, told Capital News Service on Friday. He said he plans to talk to Republicans about this on Monday.

Biden’s trip came almost two weeks after a cargo ship crashed into a pillar of the bridge,  bringing down a giant portion of it and killing members of a construction crew who were working there at the time. Federal, state and local officials have been scrambling since then to re-open a small channel of access to the busy Port of Baltimore, and to remove the wreckage so that reconstruction can begin.

After the accident, Biden was quick to pledge full support from the federal government. His administration has granted Maryland Gov. Wes Moore’s request for $60 million in immediate federal aid for emergency work. These funds serve as an “initial down payment” to help Maryland manage disruptions to traffic and supply chains as well as start reconstructing the bridge, Shailen Bhatt, federal highway administrator, said in a press release.

On Friday, Biden announced grants for dislocated workers who were impacted by the collapse. His administration would ensure that the party responsible for the accident pays for the damage, Biden said.

“Your nation has your back,” Biden said. “We are going to get this paid for.”

A spokesperson for the Senate committee, chaired by Sen. Tom Carper, D-Delaware, said that Carper is reviewing the request and speaking to his colleagues about it.

“He is committed … to supporting all federal efforts to get both the port operational and the bridge restored,” the spokesperson said.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is working on clearing wreckage along the Fort McHenry Channel and plans to open a one-way limited access channel in and out of the Port of Baltimore at the end of April. The engineers are aiming to restore port access to full capacity by the end of May.

Concerns about the environmental impacts of the crash remain. Fourteen ship containers holding hazardous materials were damaged in the accident, according to officials.

The Maryland Department of the Environment has analyzed the water in the affected area and found no contaminants on the day the bridge collapsed.

“Sampling will continue indefinitely every few days as needed,” said Jay Apperson, deputy communications director.