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Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) Discusses Bridge Collapse Investigation, Recovery Efforts; RNC Asking Staff If They Believe 2020 Election Was Stolen; Trump Selling $60 Bibles Amid Mounting Legal Bills; Utah Women's Basketball Team "Shaken" After Racial Abuse. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired March 27, 2024 - 14:30   ET




BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: Recovery efforts are underway after the deadly bridge collapse in Baltimore, as investigators comb through evidence to figure out what led to this disaster.

Officials are also trying to understand the scope of the economic impact. Right now, all cargo traffic is suspended into and out of the port of Baltimore, which could put a huge strain on the economy and supply chains.

Here with us now is Democratic Senator from Maryland, Ben Cardin.

Sir, thank you for being with us.

And we're so sorry for certainly what your state is going through at this point in time. And honestly, what all of us may be experiencing from this.

You were just at the site. Can you tell us what you learn there?


SEN. BEN CARDIN (D-MD): Well, Brianna, the first is it's good to be with you.

It's -- it's catastrophic. It's not just the knocking out the bridge for transportation, which is a key part of our beltway for north-south traffic on I-95. The port of Baltimore has been closed down when the when the leading ports in the east coast of the United States.

So we're just absorbing the magnitude of the loss. Obviously, the loss of six lives is first. The recovery is taking place in that regard.

We've got to get that shipping channel opened as quickly as possible. it's going to be difficult. And that bridge is going to have to be replaced.

KEILAR: CNN affiliate, ITN, interviewed a port worker who says that the ship suffered a severe electrical problem in the two days before it left the port. She felt, quote, "They shouldn't have let the ship leave port."

What questions does learning that raise for you?

CARDIN: Well, the NTSB is going to do a thorough and independent investigation. I've already talked to the chair about that investigation. she's going to keep us informed. There will be very transparent.

We want to understand the circumstances the vessel and the movement of the vessel and what was done immediately before and after the impact. All that are information that we need to have an independent investigation done.

So, yes, we're very concerned about whether all percussions we're taken and the conditions of the vessel.

The bridge took five years to build. And we've noticed that officials have not been wanting to give estimates of how long this may take to rebuild. But do you think that it can be rebuilt more quickly than that?

CARDIN: Well, to having just visited the scene, the Coast Guard took me out and I took a look at it. it's very complicated. We have to get this vessel out safely from where it is today, And its precarious position. It's partly in the channel itself.

We've got to get that channel open does quickly as we possibly can, because every day it's closed, it's millions and millions of dollars lost to the local economy.

And it affects not only our nation, but the global supply chains. So that's our first priority, after recovery, is to get the channel open, get that vessel out of the channel altogether before we even talk about the plans for rebuilding the bridge itself.

So it's going to take some time. But the urgency is now. We've got to move as quickly as we possibly can. But we have to make sure it's safe.

There are things that are in the riverbed today coming off of the vessel or the bridge that we have to make sure are secure before we have workers there's involved in trying to get the channel open or a bridge replaced.

KEILAR: The president says that he'll need the cooperation of Congress for the federal government to pay for rebuilding. I know that you have spoken to Democratic leadership. Do you have any concerns about Republican support when it comes to that stated goal?

CARDIN: When we have these types of catastrophic events affecting critical transportation infrastructure, our nation has always come together to cover the costs.

President Biden has made that commitment. I've talked to my colleague from both sides of the aisle. I am very hopeful that Congress will cooperate and make sure that the resources are there so that we can open our channel and get that bridge replaced as quickly as possible.

We'll need cooperation. And I am hopeful that my colleagues will provide that cooperation.

KEILAR: Do you expect that there will be funding for those who -- if they're not out of work at this very moment, may be here in the coming weeks as this channel is not yet opened?

CARDIN: Brianna, that's a very important point. There's a lot of people who aren't going to get paychecks. The direct impact on the port of Baltimore by payroll, for those who work at the ports, is about $2 million a day.

But it's -- the impact is far greater than that. There's small businesses that won't have customers. There are -- there are related business that relied upon the port that are going to be in jeopardy.

And it's the commuter traffic across the bridge that will cause a loss in our economy. We want to make sure that these individuals are properly compensated.

Now, we'll see about responsibilities and who is responsible third parties. But we also have to be mindful that the existing mechanisms to protect our workforce may need to be supplemented in order to take care of those that are being damaged by this incident.

KEILAR: Senator Ben Cardin, it is great to have you as we're all watching what is happening in Baltimore. Thank you so much --

CARDIN: Thanks.

KEILAR: -- for being with us.

And still ahead. You have a job interview. You prepare for things like, tell me your biggest weakness? What the RNC is asking perspective hires, ahead.



BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN HOST: Do you believe the 2020 election was stolen? That's generally not a question you would expect in a job interview. But that's what current and potential staffers at the RNC are being asked.

Two sources familiar telling CNN that Trump advisers are using the question as an apparent litmus test for their hiring.

This comes after the Trump campaign effectively merged operations with the RNC, putting loyalists to the former president in charge.

CNN's Kristen Holmes joins us now with her reporting.


And, Kristen, this tells you a lot about the focus of the RNC now as it's kind of merged into Trump world.

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Well, one, they're one in the same, so it's not even just merged at this point. They're operating the same actually.

I'm going to read a statement from someone who is both the RNC and Trump campaign spokesperson. So goes to show you there.

But it's not surprising that both the RNC and the campaign are putting a value on loyalty. Loyalty is incredibly important to Donald Trump. And part of that loyalty is sharing the same beliefs that he has. And he has repeatedly said that he still believes the 2020 election was stolen.

Now, it's not that surprising that the RNC is turning its focus to what they call election integrity or a focus on election fraud. So a reminder that Donald Trump's handpicked candidate to run the RNC, Michael Whatley, said he was going to focus on this.

That is why Donald Trump likes him so much, because he thinks that Whatley really knows a lot about, quote, unquote, "election integrity." They've also staffed up with lawyers who are going to focus on the election.

One of the reasons that Donald Trump had a falling out with Ronna McDaniel was because of the fact he didn't think that we're enough lawyers in place during the 2020 election to help secure his victory.

Now, this is the response that we got from this spokesperson, both RNC and Trump campaign.

They said, "Candidates who worked on the frontlines in battleground states or are currently in states where fraud allegations have been prevalent, were asked about their work experience. We want experienced staff with meaningful views on how elections are won and lost, and real experience-based opinions about what happens in the trenches."

Now, unsurprisingly, we've already heard from the Biden campaign on this. They are going scorched earth, saying elections are only fair if Donald Trump wins. Again, not that surprising here.

SANCHEZ: Yes, we should point out, just point of fact, the 2020 election was not stolen. There is zero evidence that there was widespread fraud. Nevertheless, the former president continues to espouse these lies.

He also is promoting stuff. Last month, he was trying to sell some sneakers. Now, take a look at what former President Trump is selling.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This Bible is the King James version and also includes our founding father documents. Yes, the Constitution. I'm broad to endorse and encourage you to get this Bible. We must make America pray again. (END VIDEO CLIP)

SANCHEZ: It is $60 Donald Trump and Lee Greenwood-branded Bible.

HOLMES: Lee Greenwood. And let's just remind everybody, the country singer who sang --


HOLMES: -- "God Bless the USA." And it's actually called the God Bless the USA Bible. It is the only Bible, if you look on their Web site, that has endorsed by both Donald Trump and Lee Greenwood. So it's all those facts on there.

They also include the Declaration of Independence inside the Bible, which is an interesting part of a Bible.


HOLMES: But what's interesting here is the fact that this is not necessarily a Trump product. The sneakers we're a Trump product. This is a Lee Greenwood product, which Trump is getting behind and issuing this video that we're playing here of him essentially giving an infomercial on Truth Social about buying this Bible.

It comes at a time in which we know he's had astronomical legal fees. It also comes at a time in which he has been looking for various outlets to raise money, including NFTs, as you noted, sneakers.

Now, this is his project alone. Again, Lee Greenwood, he's getting some royalties from it. So it's essentially selling his brand, something he's been doing for the last several decades.

But this one, we spoke to some evangelical leaders to see what they thought of it. Haven't heard back yet. But it seems like it might be something that they do not like.

SANCHEZ: He's also had some confusion with Bibles in the past. Remember that photo-op outside of Lafayette Square in 2020 after they cleared protestors violently, he held it backwards.


SANCHEZ: He also talked about 2 Corinthians. He --

HOLMES: He's not a religious guy.



HOLMES: And I think that that him selling Bibles is not because he's a religious guy.

SANCHEZ: Yes, sure.

HOLMES: And we know that. But he does still appeal to evangelicals in huge numbers.


HOLMES: Something to definitely still know.

SANCHEZ: Yes. Kristen Holmes, appreciate the reporting. Thanks so much.

Still ahead. The Utah women's basketball coach says that her team had to switch hotels because of racist incidents. The FBI is now getting involved. The very latest after a quick break.



SANCHEZ: The Utah women's basketball team says it was left deeply troubled and shaken after facing what officials called hateful and disturbing racial abuse. It happened ahead of the NCAA tournament's opening game in South Dakota.

KEILAR: Yes. So the team was on its way to dinner when this vehicle drove past it, then someone inside shouted racial slurs at them.

And here's Coach Lynne Roberts describing what happened.


LYNNE ROBERTS, COACH, UTAH WOMEN'S BASKETBALL TEAM: We had several instances of some kind of racial hate crimes towards our program, you know, white, black, green, whatever. No one knew how to handle it. You know? And it was really upsetting.


KEILAR: So the team moved hotels after this experience that was very jarring. They filed a police report.

We have CNN sports analyst and "USA Today" columnist, Christine Brennan, who is joining us now with more.

Part of this was that they were in a hotel quite far away from the tournament in Spokane. They were in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, Christine.

And obviously, this was incredibly jarring for them. Ultimately, they lost in the tournament. And you have to wonder how this may have ultimately affected their play.

CHRISTINE BRENNAN, CNN SPORTS ANALYST: Brianna, this is on the NCAA, on the organizers of this Spokane region. How on earth you could not figure out a way to put this team and at least one or two others in Spokane.


I understand that there was a volleyball tournament going on. There we're obviously a real premium put on rooms, to finding rooms. If that's the case, that has to be dealt with ahead of time, it seems to me. And the NCAA has to say, well, you can't host if you can't house these teams.

Idaho, as we know, recently has passed an anti-diversity law. There have been other issues in the past with Idaho, which is so unfortunate. And we hate when politics intrudes with sports. But here we are.

And the NCAA, the health, the welfare, the safety of the athletes in the men's and women's tournament, that is their most concern.

And this is absolutely on the organizers and on the NCAA for allowing this to even have a chance to happen by having this team as we'll as others so far away from the actual event.

SANCHEZ: Christine, the NCAA has condemned this. I'm wondering if you think there's more that they can do now. Like what kind of responsibility they now have to investigate?

BRENNAN: Yes, they should, Boris. And I think they will. Obviously, there's also the authorities that are looking into this. So that's good news.

And it also -- frankly, the conversation as troubling as this is, it's an important conversation. As we know, sports can often take us to important national conversations. Here we are.

That's, I think, a good thing out of something so terrible, is that we're shining a light on what these athletes had to go through.

I mean, this is the highlight of their college careers. They have made the NCAA tournament. They're going to dinner to celebrate and get ready for their first game, which, by the way, they won the first round.

And instead, they're subjected to hate crimes, to racial taunts, to slurs, to the worst words in the worst of us. Shame on everyone involved.

And I would hope the NCAA will look at where they're locating these events. And you can't take politics out of this.

If there is any chance that there would be trouble in a state or a city, it is time for the NCAA and any organizing body to understand that that can impact athletes, especially athletes of color and also women. And that's just a fact of our world in 2024.

And I think the NCAA has to be very realistic about that, Boris, and understand that they have to be leaders here. They have to decide what they want to do and make sure that they protect these young athletes.

KEILAR: Yes, let's be clear, for people who don't know Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, is an incredibly beautiful place. It's also the founding birthplace of the Aryan Nation. And it is known for some of its white supremacist affiliations, certainly historically. They were able to move hotels, Christine, but part of that was after hotel space had freed up as these tournaments moved on and some people went out of town.

And I wonder -- some of the men's teams as we'll. I wonder if, to you, that speaks to some of the inequality that we see in men's and women's sports in prioritizing the man over the women?

BRENNAN: Well, certainly, that has been the case for -- as you know. And we saw that crystal clear with the Oregon video during the pandemic when they showed the weight room for the women versus the weight room for the man, which was, of course, a complete joke.

And really triggered an avalanche of change, including the fact that March Madness was a brand that the women were not using. Now they are.

Of course, we have Caitlin Clark. We are seeing the TV ratings go through the roof. And everything has really changed.

And yet, the idea that you would be housing these teams so far away. Understandably, a volleyball tournament in town. Then in that case, it seems to me the NCAA has to say, OK, Spokane, Gonzaga, you cannot host because you cannot provide lodging near the arena. And we're going to find another place to host.

And that's, that's a very easy answer. But absolutely, sexism is a part of this conversation as we'll as racism.

SANCHEZ: Christine Brennan, appreciate your insight on this. Thanks for being with us.

BRENNAN: Thank you.

SANCHEZ: Still plenty more news to come. CNN returns in just a moment.