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Buttigieg And Gautier Address Challenges Of Baltimore Bridge Collapse; Bipartisan Cooperation Urged For Bridge Collapse Aftermath; U.S. Coast Guard Spearheads Cleanup And Inspection Efforts Post- Collapse; Structural Safety Of Bridges Questioned After Vessel Impact; Economic And Personal Toll Of Bridge Collapse Highlighted; Recovery Efforts Underway Amid Difficulties In Baltimore Collapse Cleanup; Infrastructure Funding And Safety Regulations In Focus After Collapse. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired March 27, 2024 - 14:00   ET




PETE BUTTIGIEG, TRANSPORTATION SECRETARY: Is as impactful as some of the issues that affected the Panama Canal, for example, this does not automatically mean that a trip to the East Coast has to be substituted with a trip to the West Coast, which would be much more of a cost impact. It could probably be accommodated up and down the East Coast, but the effect clearly will not be trivial.

UNKNOWN: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. You said that you had received a request for emergency funding from the Maryland authorities. Can you tell us what that number was?

BUTTIGIEG: Those don't necessarily include a full estimate of the cost, but they do make it possible, through what's called a quick release authority, for us to start getting dollars out. Uh, I was just notified that this is coming in as I was stepping out here, so I don't have more details than that right now.

UNKNOWN: Hi. So, just clearly speaking about economic impact, each day that the port is shut down, what is the economic impact per day?

BUTTIGIEG: Well, again, there's between, last I checked, between a $100 and $200 million of value that comes through that port every day and about two million dollars in wages, that are at stake every day. And that's one of the areas we're most concerned about. It's one thing for a container or a vehicle or a sugar shipment to be absorbed or accommodated somewhere else, but these longshore workers, if goods aren't moving, they're not working. Now, right now, there is work taking place even inside of that bridge because of the work that has to be done to offload some of the vehicles, that are stuck there, and get that back onto surface transportation to go out to other sites. So, they're, they're likely working, right now, but that work won't last long, and that's one of our main areas of concern.

UNKNOWN: Thank you very much. So, when you look at CFR, you know, the Code of Federal Regulations, you earlier talked about, how you know, you inspect these vehicles, right? The Coast Guard inspects these vehicles. Is it done on a regular basis to see if all of those items are, you know, being followed, or do you do spot checks?

VICE ADMIRAL PETER GAUTIER, DEPUTY COMMANDER FOR OPERATIONS, U.S. COAST GUARD: Pretty thorough. So, every ship that comes to a United States port has to report to the Coast Guard and Customs and Border Protection 96 hours in advance. What we do then is look at cargo, look at the vessel history, look at the individuals on board, and we'll put them through a risk matrix to determine, based on their past history and another, another set of factors, on whether we should board and inspect or not. But it's a pretty thorough process.

UNKNOWN: Vice Admiral, and Mr Secretary, when does cleanup begin? Because we're hearing, after the first stage of rescue and recovery, cleanup begins. And the question is, once cleanup starts, will there be at least one channel to come through because of the importance and the neediness of this port. Not just for Baltimore but for the country, to include the Midwest, with the farming equipment that goes on the CSX line that's right there? And also, how are you going to push back to Republicans who don't want anything to go through from this Biden administration, budgetarily, when the President says he wants to pay for everything?

BUTTIGIEG: I'll take the latter and leave it to you on the channel. So, look, infrastructure is, or at least ought to be, a bipartisan priority. I know that partisanship has gotten in the way of some important functions and expenditures, but I would also note that the infrastructure package that was passed is known as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law for a reason. Some, not all, Republicans crossed the aisle to work with President Biden and work with Democrats and get this done. It is our hope that that same spirit will prevail here, and I would also remind any member who might find themselves on the fence when this, when any requests that might come through materialize, that, you know, today this is happening in Baltimore, tomorrow it could be your district, and we really need to stand together, red, blue, and purple, to get these things done.

UNKNOWN: And what about the channel, the cleanup, and the channels?

GAUTIER: So, in terms of cleanup, in terms of the, the debris assessment, removal now. Again, the Army Corps of Engineers, under General Spellman, are being very aggressive and mobilizing equipment, beginning the underwater surveys, and the necessary actions in order to first understand, what they're facing in terms of challenges, with not just the debris on the surface but underwater. So they can give you an idea on sort of what their assessment looks like.

UNKNOWN: So, we can safely say the process for cleanup and possibly opening a channel is already underway because you are assessing what's going on down below?

GAUTIER: So Admiral Gareth the Coast Guard Incident Commander and General Spellman for the Army Corps are very tightly linked and coordinated on the necessary actions to do this. Not waiting in order to begin this process. [14:05:09]

Now, we do need to be sensitive because the state of Maryland is conducting the body recovery operations in and around the same area where the debris assessment removal needs to take place. But again, in terms of those details, Army Corps is best to answer that.

UNKNOWN: Thank you. Mr. Secretary or Vice Admiral, what kind of changes could this lead to the operations at the ports? Could we see tug escorts going through for bridges like this? And would that make a difference in this?

BUTTIGIEG: For us, again, I think it's too soon to speculate whether any design feature or other practice would have made a difference, but that's the kind of thing that NTSB does, and they do it well. At the end of their investigation, they issue recommendations, which often become part of policy, design, or even technology for the future, and it's part of why we'll be very interested in their work.

UNKNOWN: Thanks, Karine (ph). Mr Secretary, can you tell us? Have you ever seen any impact on inflation? And you said that the bridge was not made to withstand such an impact, but should it be reinforced during the past decades?

BUTTIGIEG: So again, I don't know how a bridge possibly could withstand the forces that were at play when this vessel, about the same size as a Nimitz-class U.S. aircraft carrier, struck the key support beam for that bridge. But we will as always learn from the NTSB investigation.

UNKNOWN: Mr. Secretary, can you tell us about the impact on inflation?

BUTTIGIEG: Too soon to say. I think this is definitely a different ballpark from what we saw with the West Coast issues in 2021, but that's part of what we hope to gather more data on soon. I will say a lot of the disinflation that we've seen has been a result of the work that the President led to improve and smooth out our supply chains. So we see a clear relationship between supply chains and inflation, but this is more localized and more specialized than what we saw in 2021.

UNKNOWN: Secretary Buttigieg, have you or the President been able to reach the family members of the six victims, or do you plan to try to contact them?

BUTTIGIEG: First of all, our hearts and our thoughts are with them. I know right now they are shifting from yesterday, where they were really in the mode of hoping for news, to today, facing the worst kind of news you possibly could. I can't speak to anybody else's conversations with them other than that I know Governor Moore spent time speaking with them.

UNKNOWN: Five questions.

UNKNOWN: For the Vice Admiral. You had said earlier there was a process by which the Coast Guard will keep track of ships that may have been involved in previous incidents, and we already know that the Dali- was involved in a previous incident not similar to this one, but an incident, nonetheless. So was this ship on the radar for the Coast Guard in terms of keeping an eye on it? And if not, a second follow-up question is, if ships have already been flagged, if you will, for having been involved in incidents, what's the process for that when they're coming into a United States port?

GAUTIER: So maybe I'll answer the first part of that question first. It's the same process for every ship. We get the notification 96 hours in advance of arriving at a U.S. port. We do an examination together with Customs and Border Protection, a review of the histories of these ships and other factors, cargos that they carry and so on and so forth, to do a risk ranking and then make a determination about whether a local Coast Guard team, and CBP participates as well, whether we should do a boarding and do a safety examination there. In terms of the history of the ship, again, I think this one incident that has been discussed within the media. I think we need to take that within context in terms of what may or may not have happened with a different crew on board, different situation, different pilots, and so on and so forth, maybe not related to the vessel condition. So to speak, but in terms of our examination that this particular ship had a fairly good safety record.

UNKNOWN: Okay, thank you so much. Thank you so much, guys. Thank you. Thank you. All right. Thanks, guys. Thank you so much.


BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: There on the Baltimore Bridge collapsed quite a lengthy update from the Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Vice Admiral Peter Gauthier, who is speaking there on behalf of the Coast Guard, which is so involved in these efforts that they have there. But bottom line, this is obviously a tragedy. And we heard that. But this is to the six construction workers who they're still trying to recover their bodies. But it really speaks to the economic challenges that this is going to create, because we heard from these officials most of the cargo traffic is in the part of the port that is completely cut off by the Dolly. And they're not giving any type of estimates on getting that channel clear or rebuilding the bridge.


BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN HOST: Yeah, Secretary Buttigieg saying flat out, quote, rebuilding will not be quick, easy or cheap, but we will get it done. They outlined four priorities, essentially, one of them being to reopen the port to ease supply chain issues that have been caused by this apparent accident. You have some 8000 jobs that are tied to activities at the port. It's one of the biggest ports in the country, if not the biggest, for importing and exporting not only vehicles, but also farming equipment as well. On top of that, one of the priorities is rebuilding the bridge and also rerouting traffic. So it is quite a mess that's been caused by this. But again, we're hearing the White House through these officials essentially saying that we will take care of this. So far we will foot the bill, potentially seeking some recompense if

it's found that there was negligence or perhaps some kind of nefarious activity or something on board that caused this accident. No indication of that yet, to be clear. We do want to go to CNN's Brian Todd, who's there at the site for us. So, Brian, what are you seeing on the ground today?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Boris, what we can tell you is one of the critical updates we can give you is that of the six victims that have been presumed to have been have perished in the water from this accident, no bodies have yet been recovered. That's pretty much the headline from the ground here. Divers and other teams still in the water looking for those victims. So that will be an update that we're going to be looking very anxiously toward getting any time they can give it.

I thought some other headlines from that news conference were very interesting. The first one is that the entire crew of the Dolly is still on board the vessel, that they are cooperating with investigators, that there were 4,700 containers on board the ship, including 56 containers with hazmat materials on board the ship. Two containers actually went overboard in the accident, but those two containers did not contain hazmat materials. So that was kind of an interesting update. And again, Secretary Buttigieg and the Vice Admiral were peppered with several questions as to whether this bridge was built well enough to withstand this kind of impact. Here is what the secretary had to say about that a short time ago.


BUTTIGIEG: What we do know is a bridge like this one completed in the 1970s was simply not made to withstand a direct impact on a critical support pier from a vessel that weighs about 200 million pounds. Orders of magnitude bigger than cargo ships that were in service in that region at the time that the bridge was first built.


TODD: Secretary Buttigieg also said that there really is serious debate in the engineering community as to whether any bridge can withstand that kind of an impact from a vessel that large. I will tell you one thing, though, Boris, there was a there was a structural engineering expert on CNN's air earlier today. His name was Timothy Galarnik. He said it was his opinion that this whole thing could have been avoided if this bridge were the facilities around it had what he called peer protections. And those are what he called large cylindrical structures that are upstream and downstream. From port that are basically designed to be struck by a ship if it encounters problems like this. So, again, this debate is going to continue as to whether this bridge, number one was built to withstand this kind of thing. And as the secretary said, there's a debate on that. But whether there should have been added protections around the bridge. And I guess those are facts that we're going to be learning as the investigation continues. Boris.

SANCHEZ: Yeah. And we are set to hear from the NTSB later tonight. We'll see what they say. They have a press conference scheduled for 8 p.m. So keep it up. An eye out for that. Brian Todd, thanks so much for that report. Brianna.

KEILAR: Let's bring in CNN's Tom Foreman to take us through what we know at this point, Tom.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The search that Brian was just talking about a minute ago, why is this so hard to do? Well, the truth is this is an incredibly difficult and dangerous job they're undertaking here. Yes, they're using side scan sonar to locate some things underneath. But when you talk about the divers going beneath, think about all the chaos you see above the water. Put all of that and more below the water where you can't really see. And these divers are trying to work. And terrible conditions down there where they might encounter metal wires, a tremendous amount of debris, any one of which could put one of the divers into danger.

And let's talk just a little bit about the water depth here. This is a little deceptive because you can't really get it to scale with the size of the ship. In some areas, the channel here is such that these ships are only three feet above the bottom. So these divers have to be careful of the ship moving. This moving is a very difficult environment to search in.

KEILAR: Yeah. We just learned part of it's grounded. To be sure, we learned that from officials there at the White House. So in this environment and considering this is not crystal clear water. I mean, how can searchers be confident that they're not missing something?

FOREMAN: They I truly think they can't be confident of that because, look, if we say this is three football fields long, bridge is a mile and a half. Let's say that you could even constrain it and say you believe that what you're looking for is in this area. Which. I think you can't say now with all the currents and everything happened.


But even if you could do this imagine this Brianna. If you were standing at the end a mile and a half stretch as big as a football field and you had a flashlight and you're told now go find something in that space. That's incredibly difficult to do let alone underwater, let alone in the cold and let alone with the notion that you have all these currents at work. You have the flow of the river. You have the tide coming and going. You have other currents. You have wind up top. There are many things so that you could search an area here and you could come back and find out that it's a completely different area in effect in a few hours. That's why I think this job though it may sound simple is not simple at all and I don't know how long and how well they can continue this. I know they're going to try to go as long as they can. But this is a huge job and the search space with each hour gets bigger not smaller.

KEILAR: Yeah Tom, Thank You so much for taking us through that. We do appreciate it. Boris.

SANCHEZ: Joining us now is Sal Mercogliano. He's a former merchant mariner; he's now a maritime historian at Campbell University, where he also teaches about maritime industry policy. Sal, thank you so much for being with us. I do want to take a step back and start with the standard process, because in a typical scenario, there would be harbor pilots who are very familiar with this waterway, helping to guide the ship out. So, I'm wondering how this process of getting a boat out of the port is supposed to work, generally, and then what's supposed to happen when they notice something is going wrong.

SAL MERCOGLIANO, FORMER MERCHANT MARINER: Well, thanks for having me. There were two pilots on board, two Chesapeake Bay pilots, we believe: a senior pilot and a junior pilot, a pilot in training. Those pilots do provide the expertise, the knowledge, the local kind of lay of the land to the ship's master. When an incident like this happens, when the ship loses power. And let me be clear, I sailed ships for many years. The worst sound you can experience on a ship is silence because that means you have lost propulsion, you've lost steering. They would immediately go through their procedures for this. And in this case, one of the things the ship tried to do was restart its main engine. They also got on the radio, issued that mayday, let the bridge crew know that this was a problem, it was coming that way. We saw Coast Guard vessels and other tugs come to the assistance. But unfortunately, when you lose power on a vessel that large, you are really at the mercy of inertia and winds and currents.

SANCHEZ: So I do want to go to some new, fresh sound we have just into CNN and play it for you. This is a port worker who says that the Dali cargo ship suffered a severe electrical problem while it was docked for two days before the crash. Let's listen to the sound now.


JULIE MITCHELL, CO-ADMINISTRATOR, CONTAINER ROYAL: It was just having power failures left and right. So whenever it left port, some of us feel like it should have left when it was daylight so they could take care of and see what issues they were having, too. But we can't stop the ships from leaving port. The issues that it was having and the shipping line knowing probably the issues it had, they shouldn't have let the ship leave port until they got it under control. Honestly. It was here for two days because it was a two day working ship. And those two days they were having serious power outages.


SANCHEZ: That is significant, Sal. That is Julie Mitchell. She's a co- administrator of Container Royalty. She's saying that for two days the ship was having issues with power. If that is the case, what's your reaction to that?

MERCOGLIANO: Well, it's been something that's been said and I'm glad to hear that it's being confirmed. This type of situation should have been reported to the pilot when the pilots came on board. One of the things that the pilots will assume on boarding a vessel is that the ship's master, the commander of the vessel, has done all the prechecks they needed. If there was issues with the electrical issue, then the pilot may have requested either going out through the day or have the tugboats remain with the dolly through the voyage. That obviously was not done, or we don't know if it's done yet. This is why NTSB and the Coast Guard are on the ships right now questioning the crew and the pilots. They're going to want to hear what information was given to the pilots when they boarded. Unfortunately, it doesn't sound like there was any sort of recording mechanism where the dock workers could relay this to either the pilot or the Coast Guard.

SANCHEZ: Yeah, no doubt federal investigators will be looking into those claims. Sal I'm just wondering, and this may be kind of a very broad question, but I'm curious to get your perspective. These power failures, why do they happen? Why would a ship like this start struggling to have maintenance over its power?

MERCOGLIANO: Well, unfortunately, it does happen. It could be anything from contaminated fuel to your water intakes getting clogged, which will turn the engines off to preserve them. Or there could be electrical distribution issues. What we do know is that when the ship lost power, the emergency generator kicked on. But then you see that big, huge plume of black smoke come out.


That's an indicator that they were trying to restart the main engine. We then see the main engine come back on, and then it goes back out again. So, there seemed to have been a systematic issue. The big issue here is going to be tracing down one of the reasons you heard the question to the Coast Guard about tracking down the records on the ship. What's its past records? Has it had issues? Unfortunately, the U.S. Coast Guard, which is given that mission of doing port state control inspections, this is a very low priority mission. There's not enough personnel and money allocated to do full inspections, I would say, of as many ships as we need to be inspected.

SANCHEZ: That is an important point and really still a lot of unanswered questions, especially with this report that they were having electrical issues for two days before it took off. Sal Mercogliano, very much appreciate your expertise, sir.

MERCOGLIANO: Thank you for having me Boris.

SANCHEZ: Of course, thank you. Still ahead, a new Republican litmus test. What questions applicants were asked when looking for a job at the Republican National Committee. Plus, a clear 2024 message. A Democrat who made reproductive rights a campaign focus will now flip a state house seat in a red state by a lot. We'll discuss in just moments.



KEILAR: A very big and notable win for a Democrat in deep red Alabama. Marilyn Lanz made access to abortion and IVF central to her campaign, and CNN projects she has now flipped a Republican state, a state House seat in a special election that was held yesterday.

SANCHEZ: CNN senior data reporter Harry Enten is here to break it all down. So, Harry, this win, it's an indicator of just how important reproductive rights are to voters. Though, what does this say, if anything, about the electoral environment more broadly?

HARRY ENTEN, CNN SENIOR DATA REPORTER: Yeah, what does it say, Boris? Because this is obviously just one special election. But I want to note how Republican this district is. If you go back to 2020, Donald Trump won this district by a percentage point, right? Look at the result last night. Democrats won it by 25 points, so that's a 26-point swing. Now, of course, it's just a state House district, right? There was less than 6,000 votes that were cast. So the question is, how emblematic is this one district of the country at large? So let's take a look at Dems' special elections, their performance in special elections in 2023 and 2024, and state legislative and federal special elections.

How much have they, in fact, outperformed Joe Biden by compared to that 2020 baseline? You can see that Democrats are outperforming Joe Biden on average by about four percentage points. So this is just really interesting because it really does sort of disagree with some of the polling that's out there that suggests that Donald Trump is in better shape than he was four years ago. This, in fact, suggests that Joe Biden and the Democrats might be in better shape. It's kind of hard to necessarily untangle the two, but it's something that's certainly notable. KEILAR: Yeah, and listen, Alabama, maybe we're not surprised. They've had this IBF issue here pop up recently. That could be very motivating for voters. But more broadly, where do Americans nationwide stand? On that Supreme Court ruling?

ENTEN: Yeah, you know, let's take a look here. So polling how people nationally feel about the Alabama Supreme Court ruling. Oppose, oppose, oppose, oppose. Overwhelmingly. Look at this. Sixty six percent of Americans oppose it. Just thirty one percent support it. And look among Republicans. Right, because Alabama is a pretty red state in that district, though, a little bit more in the middle. Look at this. Even among Republicans, forty nine percent oppose it compared to forty nine percent who support it. And even among Republicans, this isn't exactly a popular position that the Alabama Supreme Court took. And among Americans overall, overwhelming opposition. So not much of a surprise in Alabama last night.

SANCHEZ: Harry, how about on the issue of abortion itself? How important is that to voters?

ENTEN: Yeah. So, you know, Democrats really would love to make the 2024 election about abortion. Why? Abortion is extremely important to your vote for president. Back in October of 2019, actually more Republicans said it was forty percent compared to thirty four percent of Democrats. Jump forward four years later, October of 2023, this cycle, Democrats far more likely to say that abortion is extremely important to their vote than Republicans. The overturning of Roe v. Wade has certainly changed this dynamic. And it's something we've been seeing in these special elections, just like we saw last night.

KEILAR: Yeah, very interesting. And that could make quite a difference for this presidential election. We'll have to see. Harry, thank you so much for taking us through that.

ENTEN: Thank you.

KEILAR: A long road to recovery in Baltimore after this huge bridge collapse. Still ahead, who's going to pay for the replacement bridge at one of the nation's busiest ports? We're talking to Maryland Senator Ben Cardin about what Congress and the federal government can do.