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The Situation Room

Rep. Kweisi Mfume, (D-MD), Is Interviewed About Bridge Collapse In His District; One-On-One With Former Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer; Biden To Make Rare Joint Appearance With Obama And Clinton As Fmr Dem Presidents Unite To Stop Trump; Fmr Senator & VP Candidate Joe Lieberman Has Died; Officials Give Update On Baltimore Bridge Collapse. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired March 27, 2024 - 17:00   ET


PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Minister denies they're trying to say off wiedersehen to the dachshund. Kindergarten German teacher is cringing at my efforts to once again use the language.

Before we go, an important update to an interview clip that aired during a piece earlier in the show. An allegation was made that the cargo ship that crashed into the Francis Scott key bridge had been experiencing power issues while in port. The interview was done by a CNN affiliate. Since we aired it, we've been told the subject of the interview has informed our affiliate that she cannot stand by what she told them. Disclosure, transparency, they matter. The news continues on CNN next.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, we're standing by for an update from top officials on the bridge collapse in Baltimore and the underwater search for victims. The investigation intensifying with the NTSB now reviewing the crash cargo ship's data recorder and launching interviews with crew members.

Also tonight, my one-on-one interview with retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer. He's opening up about his concerns about the direction of the high court, the decision to overturn Roe versus Wade and his own legacy.

Welcome to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in the Situation Room.

We could get critically important new information about the bridge collapse investigation and the recovery efforts very, very soon. The Maryland governor and other top officials, they are now getting ready to hold a news conference in Baltimore, should begin very soon. We'll carry it live.

Right now, let's check in with CNN's Pete Muntean. He's joining us live from Baltimore.

Pete, I understand there's been a lot of new action today over at the scene of this disaster where you are. PETE MUNTEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf -- have now recovered the MV Dalis black box --


MUNTEAN (voice-over): -- are unfolding for investigators now getting their first look inside the crippled MV Dali cargo ship. The latest goal is piecing together the final frantic moments on board the ship as it careened helplessly out of control and into Baltimore's key bridge, causing it to collapse. Six contractors doing pothole repair are now presumed dead.

PETE BUTTIGIEG, TRANSPORTATION SECRETARY: Our thoughts and prayers are with their loved ones whose lives are never going to be the same.

MUNTEAN (voice-over): The latest discovery, the Dali's black box known as a voyage data recorder. The Dali's has been recovered and is being analyzed by the National Transportation Safety Board.

JENNIFER HOMENDY, CHAIR, NATIONAL TRANSPORTATION SAFETY BOARD: We've 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.

MUNTEAN (voice-over): The recorder captures data like heading, speed, and water depth, as well as the condition of the engines, thrusters and rudder, but also audio on the ship's bridge where the crew called for dropping anchor in a last ditch emergency maneuver.

PETER GOELTZ, FORMER MANAGING DIRECTOR, NTSB: The pilot made all of the right calls in a timely manner, but the voice recorder will confirm that. And I think this investigation, all of the pieces are in place to have a successful, you know, conclusion. The real challenge will be how do you prevent this from happening again?

MUNTEAN (voice-over): The search for the missing Wednesday hamstrung by poor weather and heavy rain deemed too dangerous to continue among the jagged pieces of the bridge in the murky Patapsco River.

BUTCH HENDRICK, RESCUE DIVER/PRESIDENT & FOUNDER LIFEGUARD SYSTEMS: You could have 20 parts that are suddenly going to change position. Diver could be dead in a matter of seconds and he wouldn't even know it.

MUNTEAN (voice-over): Still unaccounted for, Salvadoran father of three, Miguel Luna, along with Honduran father of two, Maynor Sandoval, whose brother is still holding out hope.

CARLOS SUAZO SANDOVAL (through translator): Yes, we still have hope till this moment. God grant the miracle. It would be beautiful. For us and the family in Honduras, we still have hope. I know time is our worst enemy.


BLITZER: Pete Muntean reporting for us from Baltimore. Thank you, Pete, very much.

As we get closer and closer to that briefing in Baltimore, I want to bring in right now Congressman Kweisi Mfume. He's a Democrat of Maryland. His district includes both the Baltimore port and the collapse bridge area.

Congressman, thanks so much for joining us. As we stand by for this update at this news conference, is there any new information you can share about the recovery efforts and the ongoing investigation into this horrible, horrible bridge collapse?

REP. KWEISI MFUME (D-MD): Thank you, Wolf. The investigation is very, very important and they should leave no stone unturned, may everything from the point of the loss of navigation to the inability to turn the ship to the impact and collapse of the bridge and the deaths that occurred thereafter, it's going to require an extensive amount of background and an extensive amount of research. And so, the NTSB, the FBI, the coast guard, and our local assets, including the transportation secretary and the secretary on the national level, Mr. Buttigieg, are all working to get this done.


It is so very important because you don't want this sort of thing ever happening again. And with a ship that's the length of three football fields with 4,000 containers and weighing 95,000 pounds, that was an accident waiting to happen. And so, the navigation aspect of this, which we think is mechanical right now, looks like it caused the accident, but we're not sure until that's completed.

BLITZER: Yes, they got to complete that investigation. We're learning more and more, congressman, about the victims of this collapse, a father of three from El Salvador, a father of two from Honduras, a Guatemalan, Mexican nationals, have you had a chance to speak to any of the families? And what support will you offer to them?

MFUME: No. The families were sequestered deliberately out of the way of everyone yesterday and probably for most of the day. Both of those gentlemen you mentioned have been in the country for 18 or 19 years, raising families, paying taxes, doing whatever they could do to get work. Some of them work two and three jobs. And so, this is a tragedy that should not be set on anyone. This family and these six families, I should say, are very, very much impacted, as, of course, we know they are.

And I think the main thing right now is twofold. Do what we can to support these families at this hour of real tragedy and then do what we can to support the 15,000 workers who are out of work effectively now who work in the port as a result of the inability for ships to come in and out. About 35,000 people a day, go across that bridge, and so it's been a lifeline, an artery to both sides of Baltimore City and Baltimore County. And the key right now is to try to find a way, once we do those other things, to dredge and to get all of that scrap out of the water because you can't put a vessel through there as long as you don't know what's underneath the surface. BLITZER: Yes, important point. You heard the Transportation Secretary Buttigieg say rebuilding this bridge won't be quick, won't be easy or cheap. What steps, Congressman, are you taking right now to ensure that Congress funds both the short and long term needs of your community?

MFUME: Well, the secretary was right. It's actually going to take months to clear out the debris. When I say debris, I'm talking about steel now, and it's going to take a couple of years to rebuild this bridge. We don't want to play games about this. This is going to be a long process.

Fortunately, I talked to President Biden yesterday, spent time with Secretary Buttigieg, and both of our senators, Senator Carden and Senator Van Hollen, have been in touch with the leadership on the Senate side, myself on the House side, so that we're able to put together a strategy to get an emergency supplemental. There's got to be an appropriation.

And I think what I'm sensing, Wolf, around the country is that people, regardless of their political affiliation or where they live, have a sense of loss here, sense like we've all been wounded by this. And so I'm hoping that that appropriation process does not get hung up in politics. The President will put forth what he's going to do, but the Congress controls the purse strings. And so we're going to need a major appropriation, a supplemental to begin with and several after that to be able to do what we want to do here.

BLITZER: Yes, it's going to take quite a while. As someone who's driven over that bridge many, many times over the years, it's so heartbreaking to see what happened.

Congressman Kweisi Mfume, thank you very much for all you're doing, and thanks very much for joining us.

Right now I want to bring in two experts, CNN Transportation Analysts Mary Schiavo and Captain Joseph Ahlstrom, a marine -- a maritime safety management instructor.

And, Mary, let me start with you. Now that the investigators have more information from boarding the actual ship and getting its data recorder, how will they work to determine exactly what went wrong and who should be held accountable?

MARY SCHIAVO, CNN TRANSPORTATION ANALYST: Well, the NTSB works in work groups, and that's the only way to tackle a job this big. They will call in and include in their investigation many different parties. The parties will be, obviously, the shipping crew, the harbor pilots. It will be road constructors. It will be bridge experts. And they do this through different working groups.

They have, for example, a recorders group, a human factors group, an engineering group, a shipping practices group, and they divide up the work to all these different groups, and then they report back together and coordinate. And that's how they get these massive jobs done on this and any other NTSB investigation of this magnitude. [17:10:01]

And then they also will cover literally everything. Some things that you or I or other people might think are red herrings that don't have anything to -- you know, might not be significant here. They will cover each one of those and systematically rule them out, and that's how they avoid investigation bias. If they go in the beginning thinking, well, this doesn't matter, they might be biased. And so the NTSB does not do that. They will literally cover every single aspect of this through various working groups.

Oh, and by the way, they do have to bring in and are bringing in the Ministry of Transportation of Singapore because they are a party to this investigation as well because of the flagging of the ship. And that's how they'll get the work done. And they always manage to do it.

BLITZER: Yes, it's so important right now. Everyone's got to learn the lessons of what went wrong to make sure it never happens again.

Captain Ahlstrom, you're an expert on maritime safety. From your understanding right now, did the ship's team do everything they could? Was there any way to have prevented this horrible collapse?

CAPT. JOSEPH AHLSTROM, SAFETY MANAGEMENT INSTRUCTOR, SUNY MARITIME COLLEGE: No, I think the ship's crew did everything they could. They had a man standing by on the bow, which again, the investigation will prove. The anchors were ready to be let go. Unfortunately, they lost power at the wrong time, and possibly they put the engines astern, which may have pushed the bow to starboard.

And again, I'm a big fan of having tug escorts. They did not have a tug escort. It wasn't required. But I do believe that this crew was well trained. They had STCW qualified, they complied with soil loss, they were licensed.

And I believe the pilots did a fantastic job. But unfortunately, it was Murphy's law. And we trained our cadets, I always say going to sea is 99 percent burdensome and 1 percent sheer terror. And what you do in that 1 percent will depend if you stay alive or still have a license. And they did the best they could with what the hand they would dealt.

BLITZER: Let me go back to Mary right now. Mary, as you know, cargo ships like this one, the Dali, have gotten much bigger over the years. What improvements should be made to American infrastructure right now to accommodate that and to ensure that no other bridges and ports are at risk?

SCHIAVO: Well, I think newer bridges already have made many of those considerations. You know, some of the newest bridges and a lot of their suspension bridges do incorporate what they call, you know, fenders or, if you will, barriers around the bridge supports. They do include what they call dolphins, or if you would think of it as giant cement and rock cylinders and they are reinforced. They have additional standards. For example, there's a new suspension bridge in Charleston, South Carolina replaced an old bridge very much like this, 2 miles long, 100,000 vehicles a day.

It costs almost 1 billion and it was finished ahead of schedule, but it has more modern things such as the supports, the additional restructuring. The entire bridge is covered with cameras. And that's the state of the art now. And they learned a lot of those lessons from accidents, because a ship hitting a bridge is unfortunately not rare. Not in the U.S. and not around the world.

BLITZER: Yes, such important steps indeed. Captain Ahlstrom, how challenging is the undertaking right now to move the debris out of the way, refloat this ship, and get the port up and running again?

AHLSTROM: I think getting this stuff out of the way is one issue. But I want to, you know, add to what Mary said, all these bridges have barriers around them, that new construction has that. I don't understand why the grandfather in these older bridges were built when the ships were smaller. And again, a small 500 foot freighter hitting that vest, that bridge is not the same as the thousand foot, 95,000 ton container ship. And once that vessel hits it, we need to eliminate this grandfathering that these bridges need to be adjusted right now.

Getting that equipment out of there, that's a whole other issue. And I think the congressman addressed that well, that we're looking at a long term plan here.

BLITZER: Yes, you're absolutely right. Captain Joseph Ahlstrom, Mary Schiavo, to both of you, thank you very much.

Coming up, we expect that news conference on the bridge disaster to begin only minutes from now. We're going to take it live as soon as it happens. Stand by for that.

Plus my interview with retired us Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer. I'll get his thoughts on concerns over the court's future and the public's declining trust in the highest court.



BLITZER: You're looking at live pictures of Baltimore County right now where officials are scheduled to give an update on the bridge collapse this hour. We'll bring that to you live as soon as it begins. Stand by for that.

But first, the U.S. Supreme Court at a critical moment right now, the nine justices weighing politically explosive issues like abortion and Donald Trump's claims of presidential immunity amid declining public trust in the institution and questions about its future.

And joining me now, the retired United States Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer. He's the author of a very important and powerful brand new book entitled "Reading the Constitution, Why I Chose Pragmatism, not Textualism."

Justice Breyer, thank you very much for joining us. I want to discuss your book. We're going to get to that.

But among other things, you've said that on its current path right now, the Supreme Court is producing, and these are your words, a constitution that no one wants. What are the implications of that for the country?

STEPHEN BREYER, FORMER SUPREME COURT JUSTICE: That's not a good implication for the country. And where I say that frequently was, Nino Scalia and I used to discuss in public the differences in our approach to the Constitution --

BLITZER: I remember.

BREYER: -- and statutes, too. And he would say, I have too complicated the system, only you, Stephen, can do it. And then I'd say to him, but if we follow you, Nino, we'll have a constitution that no one would want.

BLITZER: Interesting. So you're sticking by those words that we're producing a constitution that no one wants?


BREYER: Well, if you follow, now, not everybody knows what this word textualism means.

BLITZER: The subtitle of your book.

BREYER: Much less originalism.

BLITZER: What does it mean?

BREYER: What does it mean? It means when you look at a statute, you see some words. When you look at this document, the constitution, there are more words. That's what lawyers do, they look at words, and sometimes those words are not clear as to how they apply. And then the case might get to the Supreme Court.

And how will you decide what those words mean, how they apply? A textualist or an originalist says, I'll tell you how. Go read them. Read them and don't look at much else. Just read those words, read them twice, three times. So I say, yes, I have a word called cost. You know, in the statute, this word says cost. And does it apply to an educational expert too, or not?


BREYER: Read it 10 times. You know, it'll say the 10th time?


BREYER: Correct.


BREYER: Cost. BLITZER: All right. Let's talk a little bit about, and you retired at the end of the Supreme Court session of 2022 --

BREYER: That's right.

BLITZER: -- of the Dobbs decision, and you were there that overturned Roe versus Wade, you wrote this, let me read it to you. "None of the traditional considerations that had led the court to overrule prior precedent could justify its decision in Dobbs. Changes in the facts supported rather than undermine Roe and Casey." So how damaging has this been, you believe this decision, the so called Dobbs decision, to the credibility of the Supreme Court?

BREYER: I don't know. To the credibility, because you are the expert there. I have my own ideas.

BLITZER: You are an expert.

BREYER: Well, I am a member of this, I was a member of the Supreme Court. But what I -- we wrote a long dissent who Justice Kagan, Justice Sotomayor and myself, and that dissent together said this would be very harmful. The majority thinks it's going to turn the whole issue over to the legislatures of states and we'll never have to deal with it again. Oh, really? We said, is that true?

Well, this morning, I think, or yesterday morning, wasn't it, they dealt with a big issue, and there will be more and more and more. And we wrote all of that.

BLITZER: Because of the Dobbs decision.

BREYER: Yes. We wrote that and said --

BLITZER: That overturned Roe versus wade.

BREYER: -- this is not going to work well. This is not going to work well, and we explained that problem.

BLITZER: So, are you worried about the court's credibility?

BREYER: I'm worried in this sense, yes. Yes and no. Good question. Why? If you, not you, but someone were on trial and suppose that person was very unpopular, that's why I say it's not you, very unpopular, would that person want a judge who is going to decide according to public opinion?

No. Well, that's true. But in the long run, public opinion matters because public opinion is one of the things that will lead people to follow a rule of law.

BLITZER: And I want to follow up on that. But you've also said that if the court overturns too many decisions, in your words, it could lead to legal chaos. Do you think that's the path that we're all heading on?

BREYER: No, but I think what will happen there is this, the people who have textualism, originalism --

BLITZER: The conservative justices.

BREYER: Yes. And as it turns out. But they say one of the problems with the way I approach the constitution, maybe you would, is that one of the problems is it lets a judge substitute what he thinks is good for the law. And I say, oh, really? Read Dobbs.

How did you pick out Roe v. Wade to overturn? Are you going to overturn every case that doesn't decide by a theory of textualism? That's the question you asked. And the answer to that is no, of course not, because that would lead to a country without laws. But how do you decide?

Perhaps you decide on the ground, you think that's a really wrong case. Well, then what are you criticizing the other side for?


BREYER: Both sides have that problem.

BLITZER: As you know, the American public has soured on the Supreme Court, at least in recent years. I'll put some numbers up on the screen. In 2020, nearly two thirds of Americans approved of the Supreme Court. But since then, approval for the court has plummeted, now standing at just 40 percent. Are you concerned about this declining public opinion support for the Supreme Court?

BREYER: Remember, there were two halves. You want judges who will not decide according to what the public approves or disapproves. On the other hand, and the person who said this very well was Professor Paul Freund at Harvard years ago, he said, no judge will decide a case according to the political temperature of the day, but every judge will take account of the climate of the era.


Now, you get too much, too opposed to what the courts are doing, and you will discover weaknesses in the rule of law itself means you and others and me will have to sometimes follow cases that they think are wrong. If you don't have that attitude in the country, you don't have a rule of law. And that, I think, would be unfortunate.

BLITZER: I want to get to a huge issue that's before the Supreme Court right now.


BLITZER: The justices, as you know, are going to hear presidential immunity arguments. The case that Trump is putting forward, he says he has presidential immunity, should not be tried. They could have taken this up back in December, but they didn't. Why do you think they delayed this until now? Are they afraid?

You think they're afraid of Trump?

BREYER: I don't like to criticize any question, but there are certain questions I really can't go into --

BLITZER: I know.

BREYER: -- because I am a retired justice and I don't want to be a 10th justice telling other people what to do.

BLITZER: The American public would love to hear your thoughts on presidential --

BREYER: They might. They might.

BLITZER: -- immunity on this case, which is such a significant case before the Supreme Court.

BREYER: They might, but it is in the area where I feel I can't go into.

BLITZER: Because it would be inappropriate.

BREYER: Yes, that's right. That's right.

BLITZER: You retired from the Supreme Court at the end of the 2022 session. Should other justices, do you believe, and I hope you can answer this question, should other justices follow your example and step aside from the court so it doesn't necessarily tilt further to the right?

BREYER: It's very much a personal decision, and it's a difficult decision. And people all over this country who've reached the age where it's possible that retirement is in the sights, we'll have to make that decision. And I can't say more than it's a personal decision. Would I think that the makeup of the court might feed in there as one of the factors? It might for me, but it's about me.

BLITZER: Why did you decide to retire when you did?

BREYER: I did. I was 83 years old. I was getting on. There were a lot of -- you want to give chances to other people. You want to take into account to some degree what's happening and what the court might look like in the future.

What's your family situation? What about your grandchildren? What about, what about, what about.

BLITZER: So you've thought about all that?

BREYER: Oh, my goodness. How do you think about decisions that affect you personally?

BLITZER: It's not just you personally, it's the country. There's such a powerful and important position on the United States Supreme Court. Let me just wrap this up because I know you got to go. What do you hope your legacy will be as far as the American judicial system is concerned?

BREYER: I can't do better than say what Sandra O'Connor told me when Thurgood Marshall and she were discussing that question, he was a little gloomy. He said, I don't know if I've really accomplished anything. Sandra said, my goodness, Thurgood, you've accomplished more than I think anybody on this court has accomplished. What is your legacy going to be? He said, I know what I'd like it to be. I'm guessing from what I've heard, he said he tried.

He tried. That's the virtue of that job. It gives you a chance to do your best. It's not the applause. I was told by a president, hey, the applause dies very rapidly, very rapidly.

And then you're left with the job. And the virtue of that job is it requires you to forget about yourself. You know what Ken Galbraith said when he'd been ambassador to India? He'd been ambassador, and one of his colleagues said, yes, interesting, interesting, Ken. And he said, you know what was so interesting?

I found I didn't think about myself for seconds at a time. That's it.

BLITZER: All right. The book is entitled "Reading the Constitution, Why I Chose pragmatism, not Textualism."


BLITZER: We're all going to learn a lot more about textualism and pragmatism reading this important book. And Justice Breyer --

BREYER: Thank you.

BLITZER: -- thank you so much for joining us.

BREYER: Thank you. Thank you.

BLITZER: And thanks for all your good work. Appreciate it over these many years.

BREYER: Thank you very much.

BLITZER: And up next, officials in Baltimore, including the governor, are about to give an update on the bridge collapse. We're going to bring that to you live as soon as it begins momentarily.

Plus, Democrats plan to beat Donald Trump in November. We're going to tell you how former presidents Obama and Clinton are now teaming up with the Biden campaign.



BLITZER: We're standing by for a live update from top officials in Maryland, including the governor on the Baltimore bridge collapse. The news conference expected to begin very, very soon. We're going to bring that to you as soon as it begins. Also tonight, we're learning new information about Democrats plans to deploy both Barack Obama and Bill Clinton to President Biden's campaign as he desperately tries to fend off Donald Trump. Our Chief National Affairs Correspondent Jeff Zeleny is joining us right now. Jeff, what are you learning?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we are learning that tomorrow night in New York, there's going to be a very big and important and rare meeting of the President's Club, if you will, at least the Democratic ones. Former President Barack Obama and former President Bill Clinton will be joining President Biden in one of the biggest fundraisers that the Biden campaign has had yet this year. It certainly is going to underscore the fact that there is party unity here around Joe Biden, but it also underscores the fact that former President Barack Obama has been really increasing his involvement in this campaign. It's no secret that he has been concerned about the trajectory of the campaign.


But we are told in a meeting at the White House last week, he actually had a conversation with President Biden, and he said that he thought the State of the Union message was turning a corner, if you will, in terms of the reelection campaign of Joe Biden. So if it certainly is going to be a moment tomorrow night in New York, all these presidents gathering around together to run against, of course, a former president, that's Donald Trump.

BLITZER: It's going to be a huge event. Radio City Music Hall, is that right?

ZELENY: It is indeed. It's at Radio City Music Hall. And Stephen Colbert will be moderating a conversation with these former presidents, of course, talking about the achievements of the Biden campaign. But it's so much more symbolic than that. It really is a reminder of just how unique of a moment in American history this actually is. Of course, I'm thinking back to the 2012 campaign when Bill Clinton came to the aid of Barack Obama to really give that argument at the convention about the economic progress of the country.

Now President Biden is turning to both of his previous Democratic presidents to help him as well. So it's only the beginning of their involvement in the campaign, Wolf.

BLITZER: What else are you hearing, Jeff, what we could expect from former President Obama in the coming weeks and months?

ZELENY: Well, there's no doubt that he is going to play a key role, largely right now in terms of fundraising. He's going to be helping the Biden campaign as it already has been in fundraising. But I'm told specifically in the fall, of course, he will be campaigning perhaps on college campuses and elsewhere, but he also is going to be trying to help win over and increase the support of black voters, Latino voters, young voters, of course, the key parts of the Biden coalition that have frayed somewhat. So that's one of the roles that the former President Barack Obama is going to play, Wolf.

But advisors know that he cannot win this for Joe Biden. He must win it himself. There's no doubt the unity here inside the Democratic Party is one of the best things Joe Biden has going for him. Wolf? BLITZER: All right, Jeff, standby. We're getting some sad news right now. Former U.S. Senator Joseph Lieberman has died this afternoon, March 27th, 2024, in New York City due to complications from a fall. He was 82 years old. His beloved wife Hadassah and members of his loving family were with him as he passed. Senator Lieberman's love of God, his family in America, endured throughout his life of service in the public interest. Jeff Zeleny, let me talk to you a little bit about Senator Lieberman. We both watched him over these many years. He will certainly be missed.

ZELENY: He will. Well, that was certainly in our minds as were confirming that news, as you and I were just speaking a few moments ago. Joe Lieberman, of course, a lion of the Senate, a longtime Democratic senator, of course, from Connecticut, but also Al Gore's running mate in 2000. He was history making in his own right. In recent months and years, he's been at odds, of course, with his Democratic Party. I was just thinking back to my last conversation with him only a few weeks ago about this movement called no labels. He's been urging and looking for a third party candidate, if you will.

He, of course, has been frustrated by the direction of the party. So Joe Lieberman has a long, long career, longtime friend of Joe Biden's, but he thought it was time for a new direction. So that was his latest act in politics, Wolf. But if we look at the long life of Joe Lieberman, there is no doubt he's history making. He was one of the Democrats who, of course, was very good friends with Senator John McCain, one of his closest friends in the Senate.

In fact, John McCain really wanted to and tried to make Joe Lieberman his running mate in 2008. But Republican advisors, of course, picked Sarah Palin at the time. They thought it simply was too much to have Joe Lieberman, who was pro-choice and a Democrat, so he couldn't be on that ticket. So, Wolf, the long life of Joe Lieberman, a lion in the Senate, he will be missed and remembered. Wolf?

BLITZER: All right, stand by, Jeff. I want to take a closer look right now at Joe Lieberman's life and times. Watch this.


BLITZER (voice-over): When Joseph Lieberman came to Washington in 1989, he was part of an increasingly rare group, a conservative Democrat from the northeast.

JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (D), FORMER SENATOR: The American dream is alive and well.

BLITZER (voice-over): In the Connecticut race against an 18 year incumbent, Lieberman beat Liberal Republican Lowell Weicker by less than a point to become the first orthodox Jewish U.S. senator in history.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Senator Lieberman's office, how may I help you?

BLITZER (voice-over): Lieberman held traditional democratic views on the environment and abortion rights, but the former state attorney general was also a strong supporter of law enforcement and a hawk on foreign policy. During Bill Clinton's impeachment battle, Lieberman voted against conviction but forcefully criticized the president.

LIEBERMAN: It is hard to ignore the impact of the misconduct the president has admitted to.

BLITZER (voice-over): Despite bucking his party so often and maybe because of it. Vice President Al Gore chose Lieberman as his running mate in 2000.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I proudly nominate as our next vice president of the United States, Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut.

BLITZER (voice-over): The first Jewish vice presidential nominee of a major party. His campaign with Gore went into overtime.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: CNN right now is moving our earlier declaration of Florida back to the too close to call column.

BLITZER (voice-over): The toss up lasted for more than a month until the U.S. Supreme Court ordered the vote recount stopped in Florida and Gore conceded.

LIEBERMAN: This election is over.

BLITZER (voice-over): Lieberman's relationship with his own party became more strained over his strong support of the Iraq war.

NANCY PELOSI (D), FORMER HOUSE SPEAKER: I completely disagree with Senator Lieberman.

BLITZER (voice-over): A position that doomed his presidential run in 2004. His support of the troops surge plan likely played a role in losing the Democratic nomination for Senate in 2006. But his political career was not over.

LIEBERMAN: He won the primary. I'm exercising my right to run as an independent Democrat. I'm loyal to my party, but I have higher loyalty.

BLITZER (voice-over): Lieberman kept his seat, winning as an independent but alienated Democrats again in 2008 by siding with Republicans, backing his old friend, John McCain, for president over Barack Obama. He made no apologies.

LIEBERMAN: None of the Democratic candidates asked for my support. John McCain did.

BLITZER (voice-over): McCain later wrote in a book that instead of choosing Sarah Palin as his vice presidential running mate in 2008, he should have followed his instincts and chosen Lieberman. His political advisors warned him against it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was going to cause a problem in the convention because Joe Lieberman was pro-choice.

BLITZER (voice-over): Lieberman retired from the Senate in 2013, but continued to speak up politically, supporting President Donald Trump's controversial choice, Betsy DeVos, for education secretary. When Trump fired FBI director James Comey, he even publicly considered Lieberman as a replacement.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is Senator Lieberman one of your top picks, sir?


BLITZER (voice-over): Lieberman would later withdraw his name from consideration. In a career full of unpredictable alliances and political surprises, Joseph Lieberman described one constant that defined his life, whether on the campaign trail or Washington.

LIEBERMAN: I have never shied from a good fight and I never will.


BLITZER: And our deepest, deepest condolences to his family. May he rest in peace. And as we say, may his memory be a blessing. Right now, I want to bring back CNN's Jeff Zeleny along with CNN senior political commentator Scott Jennings and CNN political commentator Ashley Allison. Scott, first of all, your reaction to the sad news.

SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, Joe Lieberman was an American statesman and he meant a lot to President Bush, who I worked for. And obviously took a lot of stands over the years that made him unpopular in the Democratic Party but endeared him to some Republicans. But I think that was the kind of person that the country was looking for and may still be looking for is someone who's willing to stand true to what they believe in and not necessarily be yanked in some partisan direction. So I think the country will miss Joe Lieberman, and certainly he is an historic figure. And I think Jeff said earlier, a lion of the Senate. I think that's the right word.

BLITZER: Yeah, I got to know him over these years, certainly a very, very outstanding man. Ashley, Lieberman was known for being very independently minded and willing to buck Democrats positions from time to time. Give me your reaction.

ASHLEY ALLISON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yeah, you know, the first time I voted was for the Gore-Lieberman ticket. So it is a moment that I will never forget in the 2000 election will be something that definitely goes down in history. You know, over the course of those years after he ran as the vice president, he, as your piece showed, definitely started to veer away from some of the more traditional Democratic approaches. But I think he still was a public servant and continued to work, whether it was an agreement with the party or not, for the good of the country.

And I think, you know, I didn't know him personally, but I think in moments like this, when we lose people who have worked so hard and committed their life to public service, it's an opportunity for young people who weren't eligible to vote when he was running for vice president to learn about their path, learn about why they took the positions that they did, whether or not you agree with them or not. But understand why people serve, why people want to serve this country, and why we're in a position that we are right now where we can't seem to have conversations and agree to disagree in order to move the country forward.

And so I think that that is something that folks can pull from in this moment right now, where we're so divided as a country, how Joe Lieberman, again, agree or disagree, was able to stand on his own principles and continue to still serve country.


BLITZER: Yeah, good point. You know, Jeff, how do you see Joe Lieberman's legacy?

ZELENY: Look, I think he leaves a very special place in this most recent chapter of American history, the last part of the last century. He is simply a breed that no longer exists in the United States Senate. That independent streak that you were talking about, think of who he served alongside. Arlen Specter was in both parties at a time. Joe Lieberman, he lost his Democratic primary, ran as an independent.

There are very few senators, few leaders in this country who put their principles over party and really can bring both sides together. It's extraordinary. I remember that moment very well from 2008 when he endorsed John McCain. He had served alongside Joe Biden, who was Barack Obama's running mate for a very long time. And that was so shocking. But he answered the question there in your obituary, Wolf.

He said that John McCain was the only one who asked him for his endorsement. So the reality here is his independent streak. Yes, it rankled people, particularly even recently, pushing that no labels movement here. We'll see if that actually happens and they find a third party candidate. But looking at the bigger picture of Joe Lieberman, he has a very special place, I think, in American history in a sense that he marched to what he believed in, regardless of party.

BLITZER: Important point. And, Scott, as Jeff just mentioned, Joe Lieberman had been spearheading that so called No Labels Movement over the past few years. Is this a potential setback for the no labels movement move?

JENNINGS: Oh, gosh, great question. I mean, they've already been having trouble, you know, finding someone, and I don't know to what extent he was the main candidate recruiter. But it's a great point, because if they are able to find someone, we've repeatedly seen in poll after poll that the more third party candidates are thrown in there, the more chaos really exists in this presidential campaign.

I mean, if you had no labels with a legitimate person along with RFK, along with a few other minor candidates, you can easily see a world where both Trump and Biden go below 40 percent, which would be sort of a crazy outcome. So we'll see what they're able to come up with. They've been having trouble so far. But I imagine if Joe Lieberman was recruiting people, that is a big blow to their efforts, absolutely.

BLITZER: Let me get Ashley to weigh in. What do you think, Ashley?

ALLISON: I think that he was a name that was associated with No Labels. But unfortunately, I feel No Labels has a pretty strong infrastructure and they continue to recruit candidates. I don't think that Joe Lieberman's passing is necessarily going to dissuade individuals from pursuing that effort. I think it is, the question more so is that does somebody want to take up the mantle of No Label? Noting to what Scott just says that, you know, if you're afraid, No Labels is afraid of Donald Trump winning second -- a second term.

And if they throw somebody, a viable candidate into the race, it is more likely to help Donald Trump win than Joe Biden. And so the question is really, can they just find someone? I'm not sure the passing of Senator Lieberman will really play a role in that.

BLITZER: Yes. You know, Jeff, you covered him for a long time, as did I. We talk often about how often he was an independent voice in the U.S. Senate, something we don't necessarily see as often these days, right?

ZELENY: He definitely was. And one hand, he was a big liberal in terms of a social policy, of course, supported abortion rights, environmental rights. He was picked in 2000, Wolf, you'll remember well, by Al Gore, I mean, so no one at that point really. You know, he was an independent thinker, but he was a true blue Democrat. But I remember thinking back to his brief 2004 campaign when he ran very briefly. His announcement ceremony was in Stanford, Connecticut. We went through his family home. He was still a Democrat then without a doubt. He had a short lived campaign. But shortly after that, something changed.

The Democratic Party changed a bit, but I think it was Joe Lieberman who changed as well, largely because of the Iraq war, largely because of in the Bush administration as Scott remembers. He largely became aligned with the views of the Bush administration. That was a very polarizing time for Democrats and that, politically speaking, was never really healed. And certainly in this Democratic Party, he had many, many disagreements with the Democratic Party or some members of it, view on the Israel-Gaza Hamas war.

So certainly the party changed tremendously. But throughout the years, his independent nature, at least during his voting time in the Senate, was notable. It was back when you could cross the aisle. Now, some Democrats, it will be interesting to see the statements coming out. Of course he'll be praised. But my guess is some might also have some complicated words. Hopefully they don't say them at this time of his death. But he wasn't viewed in the warmest way by some Democrats of this era. But looking at his whole picture, his whole source of his public life here, I do think it's that independent streak in the Senate, at least. That is something that simply rarely exists anymore. In fact, it does not exist.

[17:50:25] BLITZER: And, Scott, what does it say to you about Joe Lieberman that he was a vice presidential nominee for the Democrats and then later considered as a potential running mate by the Republican John McCain?

JENNINGS: Well, I think it first speaks to their obviously close personal relationship. But two, I do think it speaks to a shifting Democratic Party over the years. And, you know, even since the time of Barack Obama to now, I mean, the Democratic Party, in my opinion, has changed dramatically. Now, some would argue the Republican Party has changed even more dramatically under Trump. But, you know, when Joe Lieberman was in the U.S. Senate for years, it was okay to have some conservative positions and it was okay to talk to a, you know, a Republican president about an issue.

But that increasingly, I think, has gone away. And I think the party got more liberal than he did over the years. And I'm sure some of the way the Republican Party changed also was not the kind of Republicans that he was used to dealing with as well, which is what I'm sure led him to be part of the No Labels effort because he was uncomfortable with the direction of both parties.

So I think he was someone that embodied the idea that being a public servant and being an American patriot meant talking to everyone in the room and not just the people in your own party. And he probably increasingly felt like that was just not happening in today's modern politics.

BLITZER: Yes, good point. You know, Gloria Borger is joining us on the phone right now. Gloria, let me get your reaction to this news. You covered Joe Lieberman like I did for many years.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: For many years. First of all, I'm shocked by it, since, as you guys were talking about, he's been so involved in the No Labels stuff and was very vibrant and continued to be a voice in politics. What I remember most about Joe Lieberman, of course, is when he was the first Jewish candidate to run as vice president with Al Gore. And I did a documentary on the, I believe it was the 15th anniversary of Bush versus Gore and spent an awful lot of time with Lieberman, kind of reliving that whole era, which left him very pained, of course, because they ended up losing the race.

But when you think about that time and a presidential contest that was effectively decided by, you know, over 500 votes. And Al Gore conceded in a genteel way, and there was no demonstrations and there was no violence. I think that was something that Lieberman was very proud of and reflected his attitude towards the American political system. And his engagement in the future with bipartisanship did not surprise me.

BLITZER: And as you mentioned, Gloria, he was the first Jewish candidate on a national ticket. He was very, very proud of his Jewish religion, his Jewish heritage, and he was very observant. He observed the Jewish Sabbath every Friday night and Saturday, only ate kosher food. He was very, very Jewish.

BORGER: Well, and if you'll recall, Wolf, he used to walk home from the Senate on Friday nights because he weren't allowed to be transported in a vehicle. He was that observant. And even during the campaign, he would not participate in meetings, you know, on Friday, during the Sabbath, Friday evening during the Sabbath, or on Saturday when he was at home observing the Sabbath. So he was very religious, and people adjusted to it during the campaign. They knew that he wouldn't be available at certain times.

BLITZER: Gloria, I want you to stand by. And of course, our deepest, deepest condolences to Joe Lieberman's family as we say, zikhronah livrakha, may his memory be a blessing. We'll have more on Joe Lieberman coming up.

But right now, I want to go to Baltimore. The governor of Maryland, Wes Moore, is giving us an update on the investigation.

GOV. WES MOORE (D-MD): This morning, we had divers in the water starting at 6:00 a.m. for search and recovery. This is not a conclusion. It's a continuation. And we take this phase just as seriously and just as personally as we took the last phase. And I want to thank, as always, all of our first responders, the Maryland State Police, the Coast Guard, the Natural Resources Police, Baltimore City police departments in Baltimore County, Baltimore City and Prince George's county fire departments, and everybody who was involved inside of this work.


Now, I can tell you, over these past days, we have heard an outpouring of thoughts and prayers coming in from all around the world for Baltimore, for Maryland, for the victims and for their families. And to everybody who is sending out those prayers, I want to say that we have felt them and we've been comforted by them. To everybody who has shared kind words, we want to say that we appreciate the words and the kind gestures that you have shown. And we also want to let everybody know this, that going forward, we're also going to need your support. The collapse of the key bridge is not just a Maryland crisis. The collapse of the key bridge is a global crisis.

The national economy and the world's economy depends on the port of Baltimore. The port handles more cars and more farm equipment than any other port in the country. Last year alone, the port handled $80 billion of foreign cargo, the largest in the country. Now, in the last 24 hours that we've had a chance to work with the Navy to mobilize major resources all around to be able to make sure that we are getting things moving. And this has happened at record speed. And I was informed that they are still assessing the area and organizing with a thorough plan of action.

This afternoon, I also had the chance to meet with the Maryland Department of Transportation and my executive team and all the leaders there, and we talked about how we are going to continue to mobilize assets at all levels of government and society to make sure that we are moving forward collectively with our response. Today also, Maryland submitted our request to the Biden-Harris administration asking for emergency relief funds to assist in our work going forward. And I had the opportunity to speak to the President again today by phone.

I'm thankful also that we are here, joined by Tom Perez, who I know is also going to share words later on. And Tom, it's wonderful to see you here and thank you for the continued support and work.

So the thing we know is this, I do not know at this point what the total costs are going to be. I do not yet know what the full timeline is going to be. But the thing that I do know is that the task in front of us, it will be real, it will be daunting. But despite this task ahead of us being daunting, I can tell you right now our resolve is unshaken. We will get to completion. We will do it together. This work will take time, but we are going to make sure that we are going to leave no one behind. We are going to take care of our people.

At least 8,000 workers on the docks have jobs that have been directly affected by the collapse. We need to make sure we're supporting them in this moment and we need to make sure that we are getting them back on the job. And the same goes for many others that have been affected by this crisis, both directly and indirectly. We are going to move forward together because that's what we do because we are Maryland tough and Baltimore strong. I will now turn it over to Colonel Butler from Maryland State Police for updates.

COL. ROLAND L. BUTLER, JR., MARYLAND STATE POLICE: Thank you, governor. I'm Colonel Roland L. Butler Jr., superintendent of the Maryland Department of State Police. This morning, as the governor said, we moved from search and rescue to search and recovery. The Maryland State Police, along with the underwater recovery teams supported by state, local and federal partners, made a tragic finding. Shortly before 10:00 a.m., divers located a red pickup truck submerged in approximately 25 feet of water in the area of the middle span of the bridge.


Divers recovered two vehicles -- two victims of this tragedy trapped within the vehicle. The victims were identified as Alejandro Hernandez Fuentes, 35 years old, of Baltimore, and Dorlian Ronial Castillo Cabrera, 26 years old, of Dundalk.