President Biden Calls on Congress to Fund Baltimore Bridge Recovery—But Faces Resistance

President Joe Biden on Friday called on Congress to fund the entire cost of rebuilding the last week when a colossal cargo ship collided with it, killing six construction workers and suspending shipping activity in the port.

“Everyone including Congress should be asking only one question… How can we help?” Biden said during his visit to the site with the remains of the Francis Scott Key Bridge in the background. “I fully intend to have the federal government cover the cost of building this entire bridge,” Biden continued. “All of it. All of it… I call on Congress to authorize this effort as soon as possible.”

As pressure mounts to reopen the port, federal officials reportedly it could cost more than $2 billion. Some Republicans have rebuffed Biden’s promise to pay the entire bridge cost with federal dollars, demanding that any funding be fully offset with spending cuts.

“It was kind of outrageous immediately for Biden to express in this tragedy the idea that he’s going to use federal funds to pay for the entirety,” Rep. Dan Meuser, a Pennsylvania Republican, told Fox Business on Thursday. “This is a crisis situation, but it needs a plan, not a knee-jerk spend reaction.”

Federal and state officials have warned that the port’s closure at one the nation’s main shipping channels could have a major impact on the regional economy, with thousands of jobs in flux as the government works to clear the wreckage and restore traffic. The Biden Administration already allocated $60 million in emergency relief funds last week to help rebuild the bridge and provided additional funding for harbor cleanup and low-interest disaster loans to affected businesses. 

The federal response to the collapse is quickly becoming a critical test for Biden, who has as a cornerstone of his presidency and aims to ahead of the November election that he’s the best equipped to address infrastructure challenges. Some Republicans have blamed Biden’s infrastructure policies for not providing enough money to restore old bridges, though initial investigations suggest the Baltimore bridge was fully up to code.

The conservative House Freedom Caucus on Friday demanded that the Biden Administration lift its pause on approvals for natural gas export projects and waive regulations like the Endangered Species Act in exchange for funding the bridge recovery efforts, while Meuser suggested that Biden pull funds from his electric vehicle deployment program that Congress passed.

During his Friday visit, Biden surveyed the wreckage and was scheduled to meet with family members of the six construction workers who died in the March 26 accident. “Our hearts are still breaking,” Biden said, sharing that one of the victims—Carlos, 24—was waiting for cement to dry when the ship struck. “Most are immigrants but all are Marylanders—hard working, strong, and selfless.”

“I’ve come here to grieve with you,” Biden added. “I know a little bit about what it’s like to lose…to get that phone call in the middle of the night to say a family member’s gone. I’ve been there.” Biden previously lost his wife and young daughter in a car crash and later lost his son to brain cancer.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said during Biden’s visit that it plans to open a limited access channel in the Patapsco River by the end of April that should open the port to vessels carrying automobiles and farm equipment, with the entire shipping channel expected to reopen by the end of May. 

The port plays a pivotal role in vehicle shipping and employs over 15,000 workers, with ripple effects expected to be felt in neighboring states like Pennsylvania. Biden called on companies that rely on the port to commit to keeping employees on their payrolls as the port reopens. Some 850,000 vehicles go through the port annually and more than 30,000 vehicles cross the bridge daily. “We’re going to move heaven and earth to rebuild this bridge as rapidly as humanly possible,” Biden said. “And we’re going to do so with union labor and American steel.”

Federal investigators are still searching for answers about how a 985-foot-long cargo vessel struck a major bridge. The operators of the ship issued a mayday call moments before the crash saying the vessel had lost power. Attorneys for the companies that own and manage the ship have asked a judge in federal court to excuse them from any liability for the disaster or cap damages at $43 million.