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Cargo Ship Collision With Francis Scott Key Bridge Causes Collapse, Six Missing; President Biden Pledges Federal Support For Bridge Reconstruction And Rescue Efforts; NTSB Leads Investigation Into Key Bridge Collapse With Multiple Agencies; Bridge Collapse Disrupts National Transit And Economic Flow, Impacting Port Of Baltimore; Robert F. Kennedy Jr. To Name Nicole Shanahan As Vice- Presidential Running Mate In Independent Bid; Supreme Court Skeptical In Hearing On Abortion Drug Mifepristone's Approval Challenge. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired March 26, 2024 - 14:00   ET



JESSICA DEAN, CNN HOST: Rescuers are racing against the clock to find six people who are unaccounted for after a bridge collapse in Baltimore. It's now more than 12 hours since a cargo ship slammed into the Francis Scott Key Bridge, destroying one of the main transit and shipping arteries in one of America's biggest metropolitan centers. And it could have been even worse. The ship did send a mayday call about power issues as it approached the bridge.

President Biden vowing to leverage the full power of his administration for the response, saying the federal government will foot the bill for the reconstruction of this crucial bridge. Let's get you out to Baltimore now with CNN's Gabe Cohen. Gabe, what more are you learning about the operations there at the scene?

GABE COHEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jess, it's definitely still an active scene. As you look behind me, you might be able to hear that helicopter hanging just overhead, not far behind where we're standing here, right by the Patapsco River. And as you look in the distance, well beyond it, you can see that massive container ship still sitting out there. And those huge sections of the key bridge that came down early this morning, including that mangled piece hanging over the deck of that bridge, right over the front of it. Look, search and rescue crews have been out here for more than 12 hours at this point, working to try to find those six missing construction workers, who were on the bridge when that container ship struck one of the columns and brought down a huge portion of it.

And they're covering this massive part of the river, combing it, looking for any sign of life at this point. And it is really expansive because of how much of the bridge came down. We're also seeing emergency vehicles on the riverbank that are assisting with this. We're not just talking about local authorities, the Coast Guard participating as well, several agencies involved. Now, we do know, according to officials, that that ship, as it was coming near the bridge early this morning, just after 1 a.m. Eastern time, it started to lose control. And in video, it shows that the lights on the ship flickering, that there was some sort of power issue. We don't know exactly what went wrong. But the crew on the ship sent out a mayday call.

And officials say that police were able to get that call quickly enough that they were able to stop some of the traffic that would have been crossing the bridge. Look, this is a huge interstate, 695, that is a major artery in and out of Baltimore and really up and down the Acela Corridor, people who are traveling between Washington and New York. If this happened during rush hour, with the number of vehicles that would have been on there, we'd be talking about potentially dozens of cars in this river. Fortunately, though, the governor of Maryland says because police got that warning, they were able to stop some of the traffic and most likely save lives. What we don't know at this hour is why those construction workers were not told or if they were told why they were on the bridge still at that point when the bridge came down. Eight of them at least ending up in the water. Two have been pulled out. One of them unharmed. The other taken to the hospital with serious injuries, though they

have since been discharged. But again, so many questions as the search and rescue operation continues early this afternoon.

DEAN: All right, Gabe Cohen for us. Thanks so much. We're going to keep checking in with you throughout the day. And let's go now to Brian Todd, who is there on the water in Baltimore. Brian, what are you learning?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jessica, we've been able to kind of shift our vessel around to a better vantage point now to get you a better look at the vessel in question. That's the Dali. That's the cargo ship there now. You can see we're at a different angle than we were before. We're a few hundred yards away from it. You can see the sun hitting the vessel now, which gives you a better view of the cargo ship, of the container ship and the wreckage and the sheer force with which it hit this bridge. You can see that. You can see the damage there.

There's concrete that's kind of smashed up against the boat. There are remnants of the bridge that are lying across the bow of the boat there. And you can just see the sheer devastation and the entire section, the middle section of the bridge, that's missing. Several vessels now are buzzing around this vessel. They are rescue vessels. They are dive teams. At least 50 dive teams have been in and out of the water all morning long.

That one grayish vessel over there to the left of the container ship, we're told, is the Catlett. That's an Army Corps of Engineers boat that has sonar capability. We've also seen tugboats tugging an oil boom here, looking for remnants of spillage in the water. Some pretty treacherous conditions. We're told that this water is 46 to 48 degrees Fahrenheit. That's very dangerous, very cold. So dangerous for people to be in the water for more than about an hour. So it's dangerous even for the divers.

[14:05:09] It's about a 185-foot drop from the top of that bridge into the water. What we were told by officials was that they tracked a few vehicles that they believe dropped into the water, but they do not know if there are any people inside those vehicles when they dropped into the water. One of the vehicles was observed with its lights on. So this is some of the devastation that we can show you from this angle. We're on the Baltimore Harbor side of the bridge. The other side of the bridge is the Patapsco River. And again, these vessels that are just moving back and forth all around the cargo ship here, some of them are rescue vessels looking for the six people who are still unaccounted for from this accident.

As we kind of pan to our left here, we can give you an idea of the disruption of commerce. That green vessel over there, that's the Carman, that is a huge container ship that carries cars into the Port of Baltimore from other ports. That vessel and many other vessels, large container ships and others, are now stranded in the Port of Baltimore. They cannot move. No major ship traffic can come in and out of the Baltimore Harbor, and that is a major economic disruption. The governor of Virginia, Glenn Youngkin, did say a short time ago that they're diverting some ocean carriers to the Port of Virginia, which is in the Hampton Roads area south of here. But whether that is going to kind of alleviate the disruption in vessel traffic, that remains to be seen.

But there is a huge economic disruption that you're talking about here, and we can show you some of that with the lack of major ship traffic into the Baltimore Harbor and out of the harbor now, Jessica. And we can point out that this vessel was outbound at the time that it struck this bridge a little bit before 1.30, this morning. Jessica.

DEAN: All right, Brian, Todd for us there in Baltimore. Thanks so much for that update. Boris.

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR: And again, we are set to hear from the NTSB in just moments. We'll, of course, bring that to you live. We are also officially on Veep Watch. Any minute now, independent presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is expected to announce his running mate, and he is expected to introduce Nicole Shanahan, a California- based attorney and tech entrepreneur with very deep pockets as his vice presidential candidate.

Today's event marks a critical moment for Kennedy's White House bid that could accelerate his efforts to gain ballot access in all 50 states. There are at least 23 states that require him to name a vice presidential candidate in order to apply to get on their ballots for November. Let's get to CNN's Eva McKend, who is at this event. So, Eva, what can you tell us about Nicole Shanahan and why RFK Jr. is looking at her?

EVA MCKEND, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS CORRESPONDENT: You know, Boris, she is a political newcomer that is being propelled into the spotlight today. But this is a tactically significant choice for this campaign to be making because she does have deep pockets. She donated upwards of $4 million to a Kennedy-associated PAC to be able for them to be able to produce that Super Bowl ad. And she has also given personally. So time will tell how much more she wants to invest in this campaign. But what that can do is help this independent campaign.

And historically, independent campaigns have not been able to compete in the same way Democrats and Republicans have. This essentially could allow them to level the playing field, to allow them to compete all over the country, to get on the ballot in upwards of 23 states. And the reason why Kennedy is naming his running mate now is because for this ballot access question, he needs a running mate. Democrats taking note of this, they are very concerned. Even the Democrats. In his own family. Let's listen. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RORY KENNEDY, SISTER OF ROBERT KENNEDY JR.: I feel strongly that this is the most important election of our lifetime. And there's so much at stake. And I do think it's going to come down to a handful of votes in a handful of states. And I do worry that Bobby just taking some percentage of votes from Biden could shift the election and lead to Trump's election.


MCKEND: So, Shanahan. Valley lawyer. She was previously married to the co-founder of Google, who is a billionaire. Bill Kennedy saying that her material wealth did not weigh into his decision and who he ultimately selected. But a big day for this campaign. It really illustrates that they have some longevity here. Many people dismissed this campaign at the outset. But with her joining the ticket, she does inject a significant amount of resources into this independent bid for the White House. Boris.


SANCHEZ: And Eva, you've been speaking to voters about what attracts them to RFK Jr. What have they shared with you?

MCKEND: So, it's a range of issues, Boris. But I think a warning sign for Democrats: Of the handful of voters that I spoke to as we were walking in, many of them told me that they voted for Biden in 2020, and they seem sort of fed up with the two-party system. They are no longer interested in the traditional system, voting for Democrats and Republicans. A lot of them cite anti-war positions, so not wanting to support funding for foreign wars as a key motivation for voting for Kennedy. But really, a wide range of issues beyond sort of what he's nationally known as for vaccine skepticism. It's important for folks to know that that is not the only reason that we see voters attracted to his campaign.

SANCHEZ: Eva McKend live from Oakland, thanks so much for the update. Still ahead, will the Supreme Court restrict access to a widely used abortion drug? The most significant abortion case to land before the high court since Roe vs. Wade was overturned was heard today. We're going to bring you some critical moments from court. And as U.S. and Israel tensions rise over the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is holding a critical meeting today with his Israeli counterpart at the Pentagon. We're following these stories and many more, coming up on CNN News Central.



DEAN: Turning back now to our breaking news. Search and rescue efforts are underway in Baltimore after a devastating bridge collapse. A cargo ship slammed into a section of the Francis Scott Key Bridge early this morning, sending it crashing into the frigid Patapsco River below. So far, two people have been rescued. One of them, who was taken to the hospital, has now been discharged. The other remains hospitalized. But six people are still missing at this hour. The U.S. Coast Guard, FBI, and other federal and local agencies are scouring the area looking for any survivors.

Meantime, President Biden has vowed to use the full force of the federal government to aid in the rescue, recovery, and rebuilding efforts. We are expecting to get an update from the NTSB in just a few moments. We're keeping our eye on that, and we'll bring it to you as soon as it begins. But first, I want to bring in former Inspector General of the Department of Transportation, Mary Schiavo. Mary, thanks so much for being with us this afternoon. I want to start first with what you're hoping to hear from the NTSB when we get this latest update from them.

MARY SCHIAVO, CNN AVIATION AND TRANSPORTATION ANALYST: Well, the NTSB will start off by introducing us to everyone who's going to participate in the investigation by participants. I mean, various agencies of the federal government. And also, of course, they're going to need to have the shippers' full participation, the management group of the ship, which is something called the Synergy Company. And everyone involved is going to have to participate, as well as state agencies. And I think the NTSB will probably have a pretty big list of people they will expect to participate in this investigation.

And they will just give some preliminary details. They are, they always will just say factually, they won't give their opinions, but they'll factually say what they think they have learned so far. If they've been able to talk to anyone on the ship, if they have gathered documents or information. So it's a really sort of cursory introduction into what their investigation will look like and who's all going to participate.

DEAN: And what about these six people who remain unaccounted for? We know that there is a rescue mission that has been in place now for hours. Do you expect that they'll update us on that at all?

SCHIAVO: I think that they will. And of course, the Coast Guard has been taking the lead on that. And if there's a way to find or get or rescue anyone, the United States Coast Guard can do it. So I do think that we will hear from the Coast Guard at this briefing.

DEAN: And in these instances, you've named a lot of these agencies. There's so many different agencies and local law enforcement, county law enforcement that's participating and trying to help. How do they go about? Organizing all of that, making sure that everybody kind of stays in their own lane and that everybody is as effective as they possibly can be.

SCHIAVO: Well, the National Transportation Safety Board will have oversight because, of course, we've already heard from the FBI that there's no indication of criminal activity, of criminal foul play. If there was, the FBI would be the lead agency until they sort out the criminality. But the FBI and other law enforcement have said, no, we see no indication of terrorism, or criminal activity. So the NTSB will be a lead, the lead. And the way they get their work done in any kind of transportation accident is they form working groups. One working group will be looking at the ship's operation and performance. Another will be looking at the piloting of the ship, the harbor pilots and the crew. Another will be looking at the crew training, et cetera. Another group will be looking at the ship's management and overall operational controls of this shipping operation.


And then, of course, they will look structurally at the bridge as well, and they will look at the protections around the base of the bridge to keep this from happening, because this is far from the first time a ship has crashed or barged, it both happens, has crashed into a bridge. And quite often, that causes a bridge to not usually come down completely, but sections of the bridge to fall. So the NTSB is used to dividing up their job like any big job. You divide it up in small pieces, and they have working groups tackle each piece of the investigation, and they get her done.

DEAN: Yeah, and there is, of course, the human tragedy to this piece of it, these six missing people that they have got to try to find that they can hopefully still rescue. But beyond that, they're also going to have to rebuild what is a major artery, both for ships and vessels, bringing in all kinds of things, and also cars there. What does that process begin to look like?

SCHIAVO: Well, that process is going to be huge, and there are so many interested parties in that process. Now, we heard the president just a little bit ago say that the federal government is going to pay for it all. I think when the federal government actually sorts out all the resources that are there, first and foremost, this ship was insured. It's management company, brags on its website, that insures all its ships. And in a major transportation operation, the insurance could very well be $1 billion, $5 billion. It will be a large policy, and that insurance is there to cover things such as accidents on the sea, collisions with bridges, collisions with other ships, et cetera.

And that's why that's there. They will sort out, you know, it's obviously going to be important to get the project started before all of the liability, responsibility, and, you know, payments are put in place. And that will take years. Maritime insurance and maritime liability is one of the most complicated areas of the law. So that'll take time to sort out. But the federal government already said they're going to take the lead on designing, rebuilding the bridge, which is good.

DEAN: Yeah, it's going to be quite a project there. Mary Schiavo, thank you so much for being here with us. I appreciate it. SCHIAVO: Thank you.

DEAN: Still ahead today, a major case on reproductive rights goes before the nation's highest court, the Supreme Court, weighing in whether to restrict access to a widely used abortion drug. We're going to bring you the key moments from that hearing. That's next.



DEAN: The Supreme Court is now weighing the fate of the abortion drug, Mifepristone. The pill is one of two drugs used in reproductive healthcare, including medication abortions for treatments for miscarriage. The FDA approved Mifepristone decades ago, but last year a federal judge in Texas suspended that approval. Research has shown Mifepristone is highly safe and effective, and it's the most common method of abortion, accounting for 63% of all abortions in the U.S. last year. CNN's Paula Reid is live outside the Supreme Court. And Paula, the justices heard oral arguments this morning. Walk us through what happened today.

PAULA REID, CNN CHIEF LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Just hundreds of protesters showed up today at the steps of the Supreme Court in anticipation of this case, the biggest abortion-related case since the court overturned Roe two years ago. But it was really interesting, during oral arguments. Justices across the ideological spectrum were really focused on a pretty technical procedural question, which is that of standing or the right to bring this case.

And right now it appears that the majority of justices are skeptical that this conservative group that sued the FDA over its approval of Mifepristone had the right to bring this lawsuit. Now, the group has argued this is a conservative group of anti-abortion doctors and advocates that they may at some point have to render medical treatment to someone whos had complications from Mifepristone. But the government has pushed back on that, saying you haven't actually suffered a harm that would allow you to bring a lawsuit. There's no imminent harm. And they also point to the fact that there are federal exemptions for medical professionals who have these kinds of beliefs. And they're asking the justices to, quote, put an end to this case. Now, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, she had an interesting framing. I mean, she asked lawyers actually on both sides. She said, why is it that the only remedy in this case is to limit access to this drug for everyone? Let's take a listen to what she said.


JUDGE KETANJI BROWN JACKSON, ASSOCIATE JUSTICE OF THE SUPREME COURT: Counsel, can I ask you about the remedy and sort of the way that I was talking with the SG? I mean, it makes perfect sense for the individual doctors to seek an exemption. But as I understand it, they already had that. And so what they're asking for here is that in order to prevent them from possibly ever having to do these kind of procedures, everyone else should be prevented from getting access to this medication. So why isn't that plainly overbroad scope of the remedy the end of this case?


REID: So at this point, it appears a majority of the justices would be unlikely to limit access to Mifepristone.