Return to Transcripts main page

CNN Newsroom

Obama, Clinton to Join Biden For Campaign Event; NTSB Investigating Bridge Collapse. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired March 27, 2024 - 11:00   ET



ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: You are in the CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Alisyn Camerota in New York.

Divers are back in the water at the site of the collapsed Francis Scott Key Bridge. It's now a recovery operation. The six missing construction workers who were on the bridge when a container ship slammed into one of its support columns are presumed dead.

And the search for answers is also under way. Investigators from the NTSB returned to the ship this morning. The chair of the NTSB says she thinks they will have more information very soon.


JENNIFER HOMENDY, CHAIR, NATIONAL TRANSPORTATION SAFETY BOARD: Right now, we do have the data recorder, which is essentially the black box. We have sent that back to our lab to evaluate and begin to develop a timeline of events that led up to the strike on the bridge. And we hope to have that information to share with the public later today.


CAMEROTA: OK, let's go to the scene right now. That's where we find CNN's Gabe Cohen.

So, Gabe, what is going to happen today?

GABE COHEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Alisyn, it's a very important day for investigators.

We know that two dozen NTSB investigators are here. They have been on the Dali that massive container ship, and they have been speaking with the crew, as well as collecting all of those electronics that they can find, including that data recorder you mentioned, essentially a black box of the ship.

They are analyzing it right now at a federal facility, and they're hoping by later today they're going to be able to release a little bit better timeline on how this played out and what caused this catastrophe, this total blackout in the moments before the collision, when the pilot of that ship lost power, lost the ability to steer the vessel, eventually leading to the crash into the column of the bridge and causing the collapse.

We also know that Coast Guard investigators are looking at the potential of more than a million gallons of hazardous material, a diesel material that has potentially poured out into the Patapsco River from the ship, not to mention we're starting to hear about efforts to eventually move the ship, move those massive pieces of steel.

But that is going to take a lot of time, Alisyn. That is not a today issue.Right now, they're focused on that search and recovery, as well as the investigation I just laid out.

CAMEROTA: Gabe, let's talk a little bit more about the distress that this boat was in right before it hit the bridge, because we know there was a mayday call.

Can you just help us understand, who does that call go to? Why were the construction workers who are now presumed dead still on the bridge?

COHEN: So that mayday call went out from the folks on the vessel, from the crew of the vessel.

We don't -- I don't know exactly how it played out, but it managed to meet for meet -- reach first responders pretty quickly. Police were notified, and that's why, within minutes, if not seconds, they were able to stop traffic to the bridge, keep any cars from getting onto the bridge.

I have listened to radio traffic from the -- around that time early yesterday morning, and you can hear police officers saying they have stopped traffic, but then they're alerted that there could be this construction crew on the bridge. You can hear an officer say they're waiting for just a moment and they're going to go up and notify that construction crew.

But it was an issue of seconds, not minutes here. Within 30 seconds, the bridge collapsed. And, of course, those eight people went into the water, six of whom are still missing and presumed dead.

CAMEROTA: So, Gabe, what have you learned about those victims?

COHEN: Well, we're starting to learn more about their identities.

We are learning about a man named Miguel Luna. He was a father from El Salvador. We have just gotten a photo into CNN. He had lived in Maryland for more than 19 years. We have also learned about 38-year- old Maynor Sandoval, an immigrant from Honduras. He had lived here nearly 20 years as well. He was a father of two, an 18-year-old boy and a 5-year-old girl.

And, Alisyn, hearing from families, friends, members of the Baltimore community, people are devastated and they really want that closure. And, right now, those search-and-rescue crews are out there still carrying out this recovery operation, but conditions are starting to get worse. The rain is picking up. Conditions on the water, the waves are choppy.

Visibility is low. And they're covering a wider and wider area because of the currents potentially moving things around, a lot of debris in the water. So their job is very difficult. We understand Maryland's governor is out right now with those search-and-rescue crews.


It is a time that they are trying to complete this recovery, but it could take time.


Gabe Cohen, thank you very much for being there for the reporting.

Let's bring in CNN's Tom Foreman.

So,Tom, take us through what we know at this point.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: What we know in the searching process is that this is extremely dangerous work.

Look, this is a big catastrophe scene, underwater every bit and more complex than it is above the water. The divers who were in there, as noted, yesterday, they said there was a tremendous amount of debris down there. There are various things that you can even see here, the threat of metal down below, wires down below, things that divers can get hung up on that can catch them, that can sever their airlines.

Can be all sorts of problems for divers down below here. The front of the ship, in both cases, you can see how much is up here, and, again, below the water, even worse. Here's an important thing to bear in mind too.We have talked about the water depth out here, 40 to 60 feet.

It's cold, dark when you get down very far at all, full of silt and other debris. The other thing is, this is not to scale. In some places, even in the channel -- and this is off the channel a little bit -- there's only three feet of clearance, which would mean way, way, way down here.

So we don't know what the actual situation is when they try to get under the ship, the danger of things falling off the ship, the ship moving. So the dangers here really are quite immense, Alisyn, as they try to do this search.

CAMEROTA: That really puts it in perspective, Tom, how just how treacherous it is.


CAMEROTA: And, so, I mean, because it's so dark and filled with silt, how can they, the searchers, be sure that they're not missing something?

FOREMAN: You know, our friend Gabe just alluded to it there. This is really the key problem here. If you take a look at this from above, this is an environment that is

full of movement. It's very kinetic. The tides are coming and going. The weather here has been all over the map for recent weeks, and it is right now. So that's causing things. There's the flow of the river coming down here.

So think about this. This ship is the size of three football fields in length. The bridge is a mile-and-a-half. Even if you could restrict the search to just that far out -- and I don't think you can after this much time -- even if you could restrict it to that, just imagine yourself walking up to the end of a football field that then stretches a mile-and-a-half, and it's dark, and you have a flashlight.

How long does it take you to find one specific thing out of that field? It's very, very difficult. And with all of those threats, that's why this is such a problem right now. And you widen it out and you look at the entire area there, this is a huge and very dangerous job, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: Those divers are so important and courageous.


CAMEROTA: Tom Foreman, thank you very much.

FOREMAN: You're welcome.

CAMEROTA: OK, let's bring in Marsia Geldert-Murphey. She's the president of the American Society of Civil Engineers.

Marsia, thank you so much for being here.

So many of us who are not civil engineers were stunned at how fast that bridge collapsed. I mean, just it was like a house of cards once that structure was hit, just how wide the damage was. Were you surprised?

MARSIA GELDERT-MURPHEY, PRESIDENT, AMERICAN SOCIETY OF CIVIL ENGINEERS: Well, unfortunately, we saw a similar collapse on the Sunshine Skyway Bridge in 1980 when a ship struck that bridge as well.

So to say I'm surprised, of course, we want our systems and our bridges to withstand all the conditions that they're subjected to. But we have to look at what extreme conditions they will be subjected to.

And let's face it, these container ships are a much larger load than we had ever anticipated back when this bridge was originally designed. So we have to rely now on NTSB and others who are going to look at this failure and determine whether we need to change our approach, our design approach in the future on bridges such as this.

It's not surprising, but we will learn from it, certainly.

CAMEROTA: Well, Marsia, what would that -- how could we change the approach? What would this change?

GELDERT-MURPHEY: It's going to have to be a collaboration of things. We are going to have to look at, do we need to look at design changes?

Do we need to look at navigation changes along the navigable waterways, in addition to design changes? Let's face it. What it would cost for a bridge to take a head on collision from a load such as this would be -- not be practical for us to be able to design structures like this. So it has to be a combination of design factors and navigation changes, which is too early for us to really determine what that looks like now.

We're in the middle of doing the investigation through NTSB and others. And we will make sure, as civil engineers, that we take to heart what we learned from this so that it never happens again. Civil engineers take as paramount the health, safety and welfare of the public.


It breaks our hearts, it's devastating to see something like this and to know that we have lost six people due to this accident.


And one of the things that I read, Marsia, is that maybe the support columns could have had more buffer around them, more cushion around them somehow. Do you think that that would help?

GELDERT-MURPHEY: Well, there's certainly systems such as fenders that are designed to protect the bridges, and we have to know, how are those surviving in these conditions? They're subject to corrosion, certainly.

And I can't speculate on that. We will have to find out as the investigation progresses. But there are systems that can be used. But, once again, I cannot stress enough that we have to understand that these new ships...

CAMEROTA: Well, I think -- yes, I think that we're having technical issues with Marsia. We really appreciate her expertise.

OK, still ahead this hour, the massive economic impact this disaster could have. We're going to speak with the Baltimore City Council president.

With less than five months away until the Democratic Convention, the Biden campaign is bringing out the star power. We have some new reporting on how involved the Obamas will be.

Also, shares of Donald Trump's social media company were selling so fast yesterday, they had to pause trading on Tuesday. Will this be another blockbuster day? And what's making them sell so fast?

You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM.


[11:16:43] CAMEROTA: President Biden will be throwing a blockbuster fund-raising event tomorrow at Radio City Music Hall that will include former Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton.

This is the latest sign that former President Obama is becoming more involved in President Biden's reelection bid. Sources close to President Obama say he has grave concerns about a second Trump presidency.

CNN's M.J. Lee is live for us at the White House.

So, what will President Obama's role be?

M.J. LEE, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Alisyn, we know that the former president has told associates in recent months that he does believe that the Joe Biden and Donald Trump rematch is going to be extremely close and that he sees the 2024 election as being an all- hands-on-deck moment, a sentiment I think that is shared by most White House and campaign officials.

We know that the former president and the current president, Joe Biden, are in regular contact and that the former president also is in touch with some senior White House officials as well, including White House chief of staff Jeff Zients, who, of course, worked in the Obama administration.

And now, as the general election fully gets under way, we do expect that the former president is going to be a bigger presence on the campaign trail. Last Friday, we know that he spent some several hours here at the White House residence taping some materials for the Biden reelection campaign.

And he is likely to visit, especially as we get more into the fall, college campuses and key cities in battleground states. Now, the Biden campaign certainly recognizes the former president's sort of political power and star.

And, so far, the campaign says the former president has helped bring in some $15 million just via some of his grassroots outreach, so something that the Biden campaign is certainly eager to use and lean on as a political tool, again, particularly given his political star power right now.

CAMEROTA: OK, M.J., thank you very much.

Let's discuss this and more with CNN senior political analyst and senior editor at "The Atlantic" Ron Brownstein. We also have with us Democratic strategist and former senior adviser to Bernie Sanders presidential campaign Chuck Rocha, and CNN senior political commentator and former special adviser to President George W. Bush Scott Jennings.

Great to see you, gentlemen.



CAMEROTA: OK, Chuck, what do you believe adding former Presidents Obama and Clinton to the mix, how will that move the needle, if at all?

ROCHA: Well, it moves the needle in people's pockets. You can start hearing all the chimes going up on the slot machines right now, because all that means is, it's going to be a lot of money.

There's one thing that's the power of Barack Obama. He's still very popular. The base loves him. People always reminisce about the Obama days, and he is just a fund-raising juggernaut. And the one big advantage Democrats have over all the Republicans, especially Donald Trump, is the cash advantage.

And no matter if you're a Democrat or Republican, you have been running campaigns for two days or for 20 years, money is the mother milk of campaigns. Whoever can buy the most ads normally wins these types of elections. And that's what it means, is more money.

CAMEROTA: Scott, you agree?

SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Oh, yes, they will raise a lot of money.

And you would expect an incumbent president to have a -- all the money that they need. I'm not surprised to hear Barack Obama is engaging here. Bill Clinton surprises me a little, given the nature of the Democratic Party these days. I'm surprised they keep rolling out Bill Clinton. He's the uncancelable Bill Clinton, given his sordid past, but whatever. I guess they have to do it.


But, yes, I expect them to have all these not just -- by the way, not just politicians. They will have celebrities engaged in this and raising all the money Joe Biden could ever spend.

CAMEROTA: Ron, that's an interesting point that Scott brings up. Is Bill Clinton helpful at this point for President Biden?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think in the tactical way that that we're talking about in terms of raising money, sure.

I mean, money, though -- it is important to note that, historically, financial advantage has mattered less in the presidential race than in downballot races, even for governor or senator, because people have so much other information. I suppose we're going to test that this year with the extreme imbalance we see and Biden's ability to really blanket these swing states early while Trump is diverting a lot of money to his own legal defense.

I think there's another important dimension to this, which is that you have the two living -- Jimmy Carter is still alive, but in hospice -- the two kind of out-there Democratic -- former Democratic presidents standing with Biden at a time when Trump's own vice president won't endorse him.

And it is a reminder, at least, to some of those center-right, independent, white-collar, Haley-voters who are uneasy about Trump. It is just another contrast. The other thing worth noting, health care. Biden -- Clinton and Obama both paid a huge cost electorally for their efforts to expand access to health care.

The politics of that have now flipped, and that may be one of the most important offensive weapons for Biden, especially after House Republicans put out their plan last week to rescind the ACA, voucherize Medicare, block-grant Medicaid, end Medicare negotiation for prescription drugs.

It's an offensive issue for Democrats, where it was a defensive issue for both Clinton and Obama.

CAMEROTA: Interesting factor.

Scott, let's talk about the RNC and what has -- what's happening there, as well as Ronna McDaniel's short-lived stint at NBC. She was hired. There was a mutiny among so many of "the journalists. She has now parted ways with NBC.

But it was a really public, messy squabble between all of them. And now the RNC, we understand, is asking potential employees, sort of as a litmus test, I guess, whether they believe that the 2020 election was stolen. This is happening during job interviews.

But this is confusing, Scott, because we know that that is the litmus test for Donald Trump, that you must say you believe that false statement. So what's the RNC doing?

JENNINGS: Well, I don't know. I'm not in the interviews, but I suspect they're asking people what their experience was in certain states in 2020.

I mean, my guess is they're interviewing people who were part of the campaign or part of a party apparatus in 2020. So I have no doubt there is conversation going on regarding what people at that level of the Republican Party believe was fraudulent electoral activity, real or imagined, in many cases imagined.

And so I don't know if it's a litmus test. I doubt that they are using it as the sole criteria for hiring people. If I know anything about Chris LaCivita, who's functionally in charge of the RNC, is that he is looking for the most experienced political operatives he can find to help win this election. And I think that's probably his litmus test.

So, as for Ronna, I mean, short ride. I guess she will get her money. If I were her, I would offer to sign an NDA, take 600 grand to get out of it and say the whole thing was my idea.


JENNINGS: I don't know if that's going to happen or not for her. We will see. (LAUGHTER)

CAMEROTA: Chuck, do you have thoughts on this?

ROCHA: Look, I think that you can see that there's a mess over happening at the RNC. I think Democrats need every advantage in a race that's going to be superduper close at the presidential level.

Ron brings up a good point. Presidential elections are about momentum and they get so much press. Most people know a lot about the people that are running for presidents. And guess what? We have two former incumbents and an incumbent running for president this time.

So any kind of a tactical advantage you can get in showing that the other person is not qualified, there's disruption in their party is the thing that you use as a strategist. When I would do focus groups every single day, I ask voters, what are they looking for in the presidential elections? And Democrat, Republican or independent want to know, what are you going to do and what is your plan to help me and my family, bottom line?

So all of this stuff on the right and on the left, when the voters come right down to voting on Election Day, it's really going to be self-serving on what the message can be to help them.

CAMEROTA: Ron, this next headline that I read, it's not from The Onion, though it could -- it appears as though it could appear in The Onion.

Because of his growing legal bills, reportedly, Donald Trump is now selling Bibles for $60, and they are advertised as -- quote -- "the only Bible endorsed by President Trump."


What are we to make of this?

BROWNSTEIN: Look, Donald Trump has been shameless throughout his whole career about trying to market his name and his leverage.

And, certainly, through his presidency, the net worth of his family and the money that was spent by foreign governments at his hotels, I mean, he never stops being a business guy, and this -- and the TRUTH Social example of the supporters kind of pumping up that stock.

Can I just make one point about your previous question over at the RNC?


BROWNSTEIN: Alisyn, it's important.

There are about a quarter of Republican voters who do not believe the election was stolen. They were the core of the Nikki Haley voters who resisted Donald Trump in the primary. They are the same kind of voters who we were talking about before. They tend to be white-collar, suburban, economic Republicans who are not as much on the kind of culture war train as Trump.

They are a critical constituency for Biden to cut into to further his gains from 2020 in suburban areas. Don't forget, January 6 and Dobbs both happened after the 2020 election, and Biden will need them to offset something Chuck could tell you a lot about, which is the potential for Trump to have inroads among blue-collar, black and Hispanic voters.

So, when Trump is basically saying, at the RNC, only people who believe the election is stolen belong in my Republican Party, that is exactly kind of the wedge. It is exactly the kind of voters that resisted him in the primary that are a critical target for Biden and that will, as I said, potentially allow Biden to offset what will likely be some erosion in the kind of voters where Chuck -- kinds of communities where Chuck spends most of his time, those blue-collar, Hispanic and black communities where there is disappointment and inflation and other issues.

CAMEROTA: Yes, Scott, but, I mean, is the RNC looking for people who don't believe or do believe? Where -- is the RNC -- what's the RNC trying to do with that question?

JENNINGS: I think the RNC, under Chris LaCivita, is probably trying to find the most experienced people they can. I don't know what the nature of the questions are exactly, but my guess is he's looking for experienced political operatives.

To Ron's point about the inflows and outflows in the parties right now, I think he's absolutely right. I think most of these Nikki Haley voters, by the way, are gone. They're not actually interested in possibly being recovered by Donald Trump.

But, at the same time, I think there are Biden voters who are totally disinterested in Joe Biden. So I think you're seeing -- and it's -- a lot of it's on educational attainment lines, but you're seeing massive inflows and outflows. So my guess is ultimately what Donald Trump is thinking is, I don't need these Nikki Haley people. I just need to cut into the working-class core of Joe Biden to replace them.

And that's really the ultimate algebra problem for this election. Are there enough replacements from Biden's coalition to replace the ones that you see outflowing in the suburban areas?


Chuck, I have only got five seconds. You're -- just tie this up for us.

ROCHA: Look, I think that both are exactly right. Donald Trump has made a strategic decision that he's not going to get Nikki Haley. He's going to double down trying to get more Latinos and blacks.

And he's also trying to bring new people in by being extra crazy and get an extra crazy people who never volunteer or come in into the party.

CAMEROTA: Perfect way to button that up there, Chuck.

Ron Brownstein, Scott Jennings, Chuck Rocha, thank you all.

All right, divers are back in the water this morning searching for the six people presumed dead after the bridge collapse in Baltimore. We're going to speak to the city council president about the recovery investigation and what this means for Baltimore.