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Major Bridge In Baltimore Collapses After Cargo Ship Collision; One Hospitalized, Six Unaccounted For After Bridge Collapse; Supreme Court To Decide Case Over Abortion Drug. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired March 26, 2024 - 12:00   ET




MANU RAJU, CNN HOST: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm Manu Raju in for Dana Bash.

And we're following breaking news. National Transportation Safety Board Chairwoman is about to answer questions on the catastrophic bridge collapse in Baltimore. Will bring that to you when it begins any minute now.

And these are live pictures of what's left to the Francis Scott Key Bridge where search and rescue teams are desperately looking for survivors in the Patapsco River. This video shows the moment of impact on a large containership hit a support column on the massive bridge, plunging cars and people into frigid waters. Officials are describing it as a mass casualty event. The damage that you see here up close is just hard to comprehend, especially for the tens of thousands of people that cross over the bridge every day. And that includes Maryland Governor Wes Moore.


GOV. WES MOORE (D-MD): We know the Key Bridge. I've been (ph) over the Key Bridge countless times. So many of us know the Key Bridge because it is our normal commute. This is a place that is a normal commute route for over 30,000 Marylanders every single day. And so, to hear the words that the Key Bridge has collapsed, it's shocking and heartbreaking.


RAJU: CNN's Gabe Cohen is on the scene. Gabe, you have been there for hours talking to officials. What are you learning?

GABE COHEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Manu, we know this search and rescue operation is still unfolding just down the river from where I'm standing. I'm going to step out of the way and let you take a closer view of that massive container ship just down the way you can see mangled pieces of steel what's left of the Key Bridge laying across the front of that ship as well as steel on either side of the boat. They're down in the water. You can also see their boats, several of them still out there with divers that have been searching through the water still looking for six construction workers that are believed to be in the water still missing. Over the past few hours, they managed to pull two people from the water one of them was basically unharmed. The other taken to the hospital with serious injuries.

And look we are more than 10 hours into this operation at this point and we are talking about freezing cold water Manu. I was here as you mentioned early this morning, conditions were brutal. Strong winds, choppy water things have definitely calmed down since then. But of course, that is a long time for anyone to be in this water. We have heard from officials who talked about the moments before the bridge collapse, that vessel seeming to lose control, maybe losing power. You talk about flickering lights that we saw just before it collided with the column of that bridge, but we do know they are still very much in search and rescue operation mode.

We have seen vehicles along the riverbank not far from -- from the site where this is unfolding. But bear in mind, this is not a small section of river that they are searching. It is a huge part of the bridge that fell early this morning.

And so, we have watched Coast Guard helicopters and so many more than a dozen of these rescue boats that have been combing the water just searching for any indication of life. But the reality is the clock is ticking. We have heard that from first responders from officials who have given these press conferences. But they have said they are still going through with this search and rescue even as the morning turns into afternoon, Manu, there -- they are holding on to hope that they can find someone find people and save some lives.

RAJU: Gabe, can you just talk about the people who are saving lives as a result of the -- of this mayday call that happened just before this -- this crash occurred?

COHEN: Yes, so we heard officials talk about that a little earlier that as the boat, as this vessel seemed to be losing control and was heading toward that column it sent out a mayday call. We don't know the exact timeline of it but according to officials, transportation crews were given enough time that they were able to stop at least some traffic from getting onto the bridge. We don't know how many cars we're talking about there. But they say as a result the -- the vehicles and ended up in the water as well as the eight people who ended up in the wall water, they were all part of this construction crew that was up there.


Otherwise, it sounds like because of this mayday call potentially lives were saved and cars were kept off, it leased this section of the bridge. Because bear in mind during rush hour, this is a highly traffic bridge. Of course, this was in the early hours of the morning. But if this had happened during rush hour Manu with no warning, we would be talking about dozens, if not more cars into this river. So, they believe that that mayday call likely save lives in this case.

RAJU: Amazing. And absolutely desperate moments here for in the search and rescue operation. Thank you, Gabe. Keep us posted. And we'll come back to you with any new information.

I do want to turn now to CNN's Brian Todd, who is actually in a boat live along the Patapsco River. Brian, what are you seeing?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right Manu, this is a different angle here from where Gabe was transmitting from, you can see the vessel just over my left shoulder here. Will zoom -- excuse me, will zoom in closer to where you can see rescue operations are ongoing here. Several smaller vessels, police vessels and others go just buzzing around the -- the main ship there that's the (INAUDIBLE) about 1000 feet long that slammed into the bridge there. You can see from our angle here, we're about 1000 yards away, maybe a little bit more.

This was a fully loaded tanker ship that just slammed into this bridge with massive force. This was fully loaded because it was outgoing at the time of the accident. And you can see the entire center of the bridge has just gone. Remnants of the bridge on to the left and to the right in the water. And as Gabe mentioned from his angle, you can also see from our angle, you can see parts of that bridge, kind of gliding across the bow of the ship itself on the other side there. And you can see some of the damage there as we zoom in tighter here.

This as we mentioned, this is an ongoing rescue operation. The only vessels that are allowed here are rescue and recovery boats, and there have been divert -- dive teams in the water all morning. Now we mentioned the treacherous conditions for them as well. This water is extremely cold, 46 to 48 degrees Fahrenheit, very treacherous conditions for divers. And of course, for anyone who might have fallen in the water, you can only survive in that water for maybe one to three hours, according to experts.

So, the condition of the water and the currents. The water is smooth right now at the surface. But the currents are also a factor here. Pretty strong currents coming in and out of here is that we're in the Baltimore Harbor in the Patapsco River area here.

What we can tell you also is that this bridge is a very important hub for transportation up and down the East Coast for hazardous material. Hazardous materials not allowed into the tunnels around Baltimore that were most of the vehicle traffic goes up and down the East Coast, but it is allowed on this bridge going up and down the East Coast. So, hazard -- hazmat materials cannot be transported here. This is also a massive disruption because no vessels, no ships, no cargo ships, no container ships can come in or out of here. And that could take days to rectify.

I did speak to a gentleman here who's involved in the -- in the effort to kind of salvage whatever's left to the bridge. He said it's going to take days just for floating cranes to get here to be able to pull some of this wreckage out of the water. And when they get here, they're going to have to cut parts of the -- the bridge that have collapsed into smaller pieces in order to remove it. And that could take days. So, Manu, that gives you an idea of the disruption here.

RAJU: Yes. Brian Todd, thank you for that. Report for the (INAUDIBLE). Again, check back in with you as well, especially in this key moment, these desperate moments where hopefully there's some good news in the search and rescue operation. Brian Todd, thank you for that.

Now, the White House says that President Biden is actually going to speak and address this incident in just a matter of minutes. He was briefed earlier today the White House releasing this photo showing this briefing that occurred earlier this morning. We expect him to talk before he heads out to a campaign event in North Carolina this afternoon. Later this hour. We'll bring that to you live when he does be.

But firstly, want to play some sound for you about what happened this morning. This is -- this is the emergency dispatch call to the first responders as they were on route to the scene.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Be advised the entire bridge, the entire Key Bridge is in the harbor. I would advise again, the entire Key Bridge has fallen into the harbor.


RAJU: Joining me now, Andrew McCabe is a former Deputy Director of the FBI and senior -- CNN senior law enforcement analyst. And CNN's Pete Muntean who is live near the scene.

Pete, when you see the images of the collapse and you just see how quickly this entire bridge falls into the river. What is your takeaway?

PETE MUNTEAN, CNN AVIATION & TRANSPORTATION CORRESPONDENT: We are -- we watched an out-of-control vessel and this calamity happen really in slow motion. All of this really was very condensed though in about a few minutes time. And really, we're hearing about a crew that was sort of outclassed by the problem here.

Transportation Secretary of Maryland, Paul Wiedefeld tells me that a local pilot from the Baltimore harbor or the Port of Baltimore was onboard the boat and in command of the ship 950 feet long as a careened at eight knots toward one of the center pilings of this trust bridge.


I want you to look behind me, you can still see it in the Patapsco River back there with the containers on it, this ship is about 9 -- 95,000 gross tons. So, a lot of inertia and a lot of mass was headed for this piling when it hit just before that at 1:24, that's when it was cleared on the bridge that there was a problem and then the lights flickered. And then they flickered once again on board.

So, what investigators will really want to know now is what really entailed the power laws. What did that mean? And what did that mean for the controllability of this boat? The NTSB will brief us here at 1:00 p.m. That will probably be a very preliminary just the facts man briefing. And then we will get a little bit more information as the day goes on. Typically, around 7:00, 8:00, 9:00 p.m. is usually when they breathe after something like this. And they will sort of lay out the details as they're getting them at least preliminarily. But really this is something that was a crew that was really outclassed by this issue. And they were able to -- they were not able to stop this boat in time.

We will also want to know how steerable and how controllable this ship was, after this incident happened, after the apparent loss of propulsion. You've probably been in a pleasure boat before. Usually when the throttle is at idle, you can't turn the bow left or right, port or starboard as the nautical term goes.

So, this may have been really, really difficult to try and keep this out of harm's way as this boat sort of careened with the course changing to the right. And toward that big piling of the Key Bridge.

RAJU: And Pete, the governor of Maryland insists his bridge was quote, fully up to code. But this bridge was built in 1977. So, what crest -- questions does that raise?

MUNTEAN: Forty-seven years old, really not all that old in the grand scheme of bridges. There are plenty of older bridges here in Maryland, the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, the first (INAUDIBLE) of that was completed in the mid-1950s. So, bridges are aging. And the American Society of Civil Engineers issued a report card every year on the infrastructure in America and especially -- specifically roads and bridges in America. So, this was not a structurally deficient bridge, according to Maryland Governor Wes Moore, served about 13,000 cars a day a few million every year. So, this is pretty critical.

The good news here and maybe the only silver lining in all of this is that this may not pose that much of a problem for traffic in the Baltimore area because there are two other tunnels, the Francis Scott Key, sorry, the -- the Fort McHenry tunnel, and then also the Baltimore Harbor tunnel.

So, people will still be able to get around. Although this is creating a little bit of a bottleneck, at least here for now.

RAJU: Yes.

MUNTEAN: The good news and maybe one more silver lining, this did not happen at rush hour, although you can't help but think of the crew that was on top of this bridge doing that pothole repair, as this took place and the search is still on for them.

RAJU: And Andy, the governor says the investigation suggests the collapse was an accident and that there is no indication of terrorism. So, do we -- what do we expect the FBI doing at this moment? Have they interviewed the crew on board, the ship? What questions have they posed for them do you believe?

ANDREW MCCABE, CNN SENIOR LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, there's really two things are doing Manu. The first is providing resources and assistance to the recovery effort. The FBI has a lot of things to be able to contribute there, not the least of which is the underwater search and rescue team. They have a lot of experience using side scan sonar, deployed from boats, with divers in the water to help find things people, vehicles, whatever that might be on the -- on the bottom. And they need a lot of those resources right now with a crime scene this large. So, I'm sure they're doing that.

As far as the investigation goes. They are likely helping process the review of kind of backgrounds of the folks who are -- who are identified as crew members and the -- and of course, the pilot, they may participate in interviews of those individuals to rule out things like terrorism or criminal activity. But all the indicators so far is that that's the direction we're headed. This seems to have been, you know, essentially a tragic kind of industrial size accident. There may in fact be recklessness or negligence underlying some of -- some of what took place on the boat. We don't know that yet. If there -- if there is criminal charges are certainly are not impossible in those circumstances, but the big ticket items like terrorism and intentional sabotage of the vehicle of the vessel or the bridge. It seems those things have been ruled out at this point.

RAJU: Yes, still so many questions this investigation just beginning. But as the Governor said the first mission tried to see if there's any survivors search and rescue operation taking place.

Pete Muntean, Andy McCabe, thank you for that.

Coming up next, we're following another big story today, the battle over the abortion pill and it makes its way to the Supreme Court at stake access to the most widely used abortion method even in states where it's still legal.



RAJU: The Supreme Court just finished hearing arguments in a monumental case threatening access to medication abortion in the U.S. even in states where abortion remains legal. The lawsuit brought by a group of anti-abortion doctors and medical organizations alleges that the FDA violated the law and how it regulated Mifepristone.

CNN's Paula Reid is outside the Supreme Court. So, Paula, what were the key arguments in this case? And did the justices give any inclination on how they may rule?

PAULA REID, CNN CHIEF LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Manu at this point, it appears a majority of justices are skeptical that this conservative group has standing over the right to bring this lawsuit and that was the focus of most of the questions throughout this hearing.

Now this conservative group Argues that you know the medical professionals within it could at some point be called up issue medical treatment to someone who has had complications from using mifepristone. And they say they object to that and that's what gives them standing.

[12:20:08] But lawyers for the government have said, wait a second, you haven't actually been harmed, there's no imminent harm. And there are already federal exemptions and protections for you if you object to something related to abortion in terms of medical treatment. So, it's interesting to hear the justices across the ideological spectrum press all the lawyers on this question of standing.

Now let's take a listen to what Justice Alito said about this issue.


SAMUEL ALITO, ASSOCIATE JUSTICE, SUPREME COURT OF UNITED STATES: Could you provide a more specific answer to the first question that Justice Thomas asked you? Is there anybody who could challenge in court the lawfulness of what the FDA did here?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: In this particular case, I think the answer is no.

ALITO: Well, that wasn't my question. Is there anybody who can do that? Let's -- let's start with the states that intervene below.


REID: All right, Justice Alito clearly did not like that answer. But the Supreme Court has recognized the fact that there are cases where, you know, not necessarily, in each case, does someone, somewhere have standing. This would be an off-ramp Manu for the justices if they don't even want to get into the issue of medication abortion, and instead say, look, this group doesn't have standing.

And we also hear from a lawyer from a drug company, because the stakes here are incredibly high, not just for people who may need access to this drug, but also for the FDA and other medications that it has approved. So, this is absolutely one of the highest stakes cases the justices are looking at today. And hundreds, hundreds of protesters gathered in front of the court today.

RAJU: Yes, of course in all in the middle of a critical election year. Thank you for that reporting, Paul.

And we're going to break this all down with my great panel, CNN's Joan Biskupic, who is actually inside the courtroom during the arguments that made it back here in time. Bloomberg and CNN's Nia Malika Henderson and CNN's Kristen Holmes. Thanks for joining me.

I mean, it's impressive how quickly you've got here.


RAJU: Minutes ago.


RAJU: Yes.

BISKUPIC: -- to be able to tell you what it's like.

RAJU: Yes. What was it like?

BISKUPIC: Well, you can really feel the weight of the moment, just think of how important medication abortion is nationwide, especially in the two years since the Dobbs ruling when the justices reversed Roe v. Wade. This is the most common way that women want to end a pregnancy, are able to end a pregnancy. So, there's a lot at stake here. And I just wanted to tell you that whenever there's a big argument like this, you know, you get lots of people coming there as a field trip and for different reasons.

And, you know, I'll just mention a couple of people in mind. This is just right up your street. Senator Josh Hawley was there because his wife Erin, Hawley represents the challengers here saying that physicians who are anti-abortion are harmed by these FDA provisions. And they're the ones challenging. But also, Letitia James, the New York Attorney General, because the states are very much involved on the periphery of trying to have a stake in this.

So, I can tell you that it was, you could -- you could feel the energy in the room. But you could also feel if you take this at face value, just face value, and I'm going to give you a caveat on why the justices, key justices, Justices Kavanaugh, Justices Barrett and the Chief Justice John Roberts, seem to have enough skepticism that these anti-abortion physicians who do not prescribe Mifepristone but who are claiming that their emergency room were are affected by botched abortions, that they have standing, but there was a less suspicion about that. Do they really have -- they ever had to really participate in terminating a pregnancy?

But I do -- the one caution I have is that sometimes Justices Kavanaugh and Barrett can send a little bit of a false signal, especially on the issue of abortion. But I think as it stands, these -- the court will probably not get to the merits of the FDA's provisions, that they will stop it and say this particular group had no grounds to bring the lawsuit. And again, I just want to emphasize the stakes --

RAJU^ Yes.

BISKUPIC: -- since so much medication abortion is how most people end a pregnancy. And also, to reiterate the importance of FDA having its own expertise and scientific studies to talk -- to write drug -- drug regulations and what is permissible.

RAJU: And just to point out what you're saying here about the use of medication abortions in America. Just look at the increase. Look at this chart from 2000 up until 2023 up to 63 percent in this country, nearly two-thirds of all abortions were medication abortions.

Will be just -- if the justices do sidestep this issue and say the plaintiffs don't have standing on this. We'll see how the American public reacts just look at the polls on how people view this right now. But the idea of banning the use of medication abortion nationwide is from Kaiser Foundation poll, 32 percent. Just that's 32 percent support, 66 percent oppose it and similarly the about criminalizing mailing abortion pills where abortion is banned, just 37 support it.


So Nia, I guess the question is if the justices decide to sidestep this and say they know standing, what impact does that have electorally because the Biden campaign, Biden and Harris are down in North Carolina today, campaigning against what the Supreme Court is doing, but maybe the Supreme Court will keep it legal?

NIA MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. Listen, I think it's good for Republicans, if they do keep this legal, right. If all of a sudden have a Supreme Court that steps in here and says this very common way of having abortions is now all of a sudden illegal in the country. I think this would be a bad thing for Republicans. You can tell Donald Trump himself is very uneasy right with where the country is in terms of abortion. Him on the one hand, wants to take credit for as he calls it, killing Roe v. Wade, but he also now is trying to figure out something much more politically palatable. Right.

RAJU: Yes.

HENDERSON: Voting 15 weeks. He also likes 16 weeks, apparently, because it's a nice round number, apparently. So -- so, they know Republicans know that this is just a political minefield for them, given where the country is. But again, this is what they wanted. And now they have been paying the political price over and over.

RAJU: It's been the (INAUDIBLE) who caught the car since the Dobbs decision. And just before we jump in, just so viewers know what Trump was saying, as Nia just alluded a little bit about where he stands on this issue.


DONALD TRUMP (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The number of weeks now, people are agreeing on 15. And I'm thinking in terms of that, and it'll come out to something that's very reasonable. But people are really even hardliners are agreeing seems to be 15 weeks seems to be a number that people are agreeing at. But I'll make that announcement at the appropriate time.


RAJU: How was Trump in finessing this issue?

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I mean, I don't know these finessing it. I think that, you know, a lot of people said that gave some clarity into his stance on abortion. I don't think it did. I think when Donald Trump talks about abortion, he uses convoluted terms, he intentionally says things like I might back this, I'm looking at this. He never says definitively that something related to abortion is good, or that he's going to enact a national ban. And that's all intentional.

I mean, yes. Is he floating this idea right now? If you talk to anyone on his campaign, do they think it's going to happen? No, there are no plans for a rollout. This is as Nia said, one of the things that's going to dog (ph) him throughout the entire general election because he wants both sides. He wants to be able to talk about abortion like this to make sure that his conservative hardliners are in line and behind them, but he also wants to completely sidestep the issue and not have to deal with it.

And just to your point, we've spoken to a number of Republicans who also hope that this just goes away. Because this came out and there was a ruling in June, they believe they could look at the exact same thing that happened in 2022, which was Roe v Wade being overturned, then there's significant loss (INAUDIBLE).

BISKUPIC: Just a quick (INAUDIBLE) on --

RAJU: You go ahead, real quick.

BISKUPIC: Yes, the only thing I was going to say real quick is this is not about whether this drug would be banned. It's the availability at seven weeks versus 10 weeks on drugs, just so people don't think that this could go, all way go down the tube.

RAJU: That's a great point of clarification. That's why Joan jumped a scoop (INAUDIBLE) to give us critical analysis.

All right, coming up. We're expecting President Biden to speak any minute now on the bridge collapse in Baltimore, where a search and rescue -- rescue operation is still underway.

With that, coming next.