Biden tours collapsed Baltimore bridge and declares, ‘Your nation has your back’

Marine One flies over the collapsed Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore
President Biden, aboard Marine One, takes an aerial tour of the collapsed Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore.
(Manuel Balce Ceneta / Associated Press)

President Biden got a firsthand look at efforts to clear away the “mangled mess” of remains of the collapsed Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore, as cranes, ships and diving crews worked to reopen one of the nation’s main shipping lanes.

Aboard Marine One, circling the warped metal remains and the mass of construction and salvage equipment trying to clear the wreckage of last week’s collapse, Biden on Friday got his first up-close view of the devastation.

On the ground later, he received a briefing from local officials, the U.S. Coast Guard and Army Corps of Engineers on the situation in the water and its impacts on the region.


Biden also greeted police officers who helped block traffic to the bridge in the moments before it was hit by the ship, which helped avert an even larger loss of life.

“I’m here to say your nation has your back,” Biden said from the shoreline overlooking the collapsed bridge.

Eight workers — immigrants from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador — were filling potholes on the bridge when it was hit by a huge cargo ship and collapsed in the middle of the night of March 26. Two men were rescued, and the bodies of two others were recovered in subsequent days.

Authorities announced Friday night that salvage divers had recovered, in the hours before Biden arrived, a third body, that of Maynor Yasir Suazo-Sandoval, 38. They said the search for the other victims will continue.

The president met for more than an hour with the families of those killed, the White House said.

“The damage is devastating and our hearts are still breaking,” Biden said.

The collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge and the closure of the Port of Baltimore this week could have far-reaching implications all the way across the country for the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, according to several experts.

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Officials have established a temporary, alternate channel, primarily for vessels involved in clearing debris. The Corps of Engineers hopes to open a limited-access channel for barge container ships and some vessels moving cars and farm equipment by the end of this month and to restore normal capacity to Baltimore’s port by May 31, the White House said.


That’s important, since longer delays in reopening shipping lanes could send shock waves through the economy. As much as $200 million in cargo normally moves through Baltimore’s port each day, and it is the leading hub for importing and exporting vehicles.

More than 50 salvage divers and 12 cranes are on site to help cut out sections of the bridge and remove them from the key waterway. Officials told Biden they had all the resources they need to meet the targets for opening the channel into the Baltimore port.

The president also announced that some of the largest employers affected by the collapse, including Amazon, Home Depot and Domino Sugar, have committed to keeping their employees on payroll until the port is reopened. That news followed days of outreach by state and federal officials to try to mitigate the economic impact of the incident.

“From the air I saw the bridge that has been ripped apart,” Biden said, “but here on the ground I see a community that’s pulled together.”

It is unclear how the costs of cleanup and building a new bridge will be covered.

The Federal Highway Administration has provided $60 million in “quick release” emergency relief funds to get started. Exactly how much the collapse will cost is unclear, though some experts estimate recovery will take at least $400 million and 18 months.

Biden said within hours of the collapse that “the federal government will pay for the entire cost of reconstructing that bridge, and I expect the Congress to support my effort.”


Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky likened the bridge collapse to assistance that flows after natural disasters and saying ”the federal government will step up and do the lion’s share” of funding. But authorization is likely no slam-dunk in Congress.

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The White House announced Friday it is asking Congress to authorize the federal government to cover 100% of the collapsed bridge cleanup and reconstruction costs, rather than seeking funding through a separate, emergency supplemental funding request.

In a letter to congressional leaders, Office of Management and Budget Director Shalanda Young noted similar funding approaches were used for recovery and rebuilding efforts that received bipartisan congressional support in 2007, when a highway bridge in downtown Minneapolis collapsed during the evening rush hour, killing 13 people.

But some hard-line congressional Republicans are already lining up to demand politically controversial offsets for the funding. The conservative House Freedom Caucus issued a statement Friday saying, “If it proves necessary to appropriate taxpayer money to get one of America’s busiest ports back online, Congress should ensure it is fully offset and that burdensome regulations” are waived. It was referring to potential federal spending cuts elsewhere and to regulations like the Endangered Species Act.

The caucus’ letter also suggested that approval for bridge recovery funds be tied to the Biden administration agreeing to lift a pause it has imposed on exportation of liquified natural gas.

The funding questions only serve to heighten the collapse’s political implications as Biden squares off with former President Trump in the November election.


The Biden administration has been championing anew a $1-trillion-plus public works package that cleared Congress in 2021. The president has traveled the country showcasing construction projects on highways, bridges and tunnels.

Promoting the package also has allowed the president to lean into his love of train travel and many years commuting to and from Washington on Amtrak as a Delaware senator.

Biden noted he’d been over the Key bridge “about a thousand times” commuting from Washington to his home in Delaware, prompting the state Department of Transportation chief to quip, “Thank you for the tolls, sir.”

Weissert writes for the Associated Press. AP writer Lea Skene in Baltimore contributed to this report.