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Biden wants union labor to rebuild the Baltimore bridge. That could touch off a fight

President Biden speaks about efforts to rebuild the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore after surveying the damage.
Brendan Smialowski
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AFP via Getty Images
President Biden speaks about efforts to rebuild the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore after surveying the damage.

President Biden vowed on Friday that the federal government would cover the cost of rebuilding the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore – and that the work would be done by union labor, potentially setting up a funding fight with the conservative wing of the House of Representatives.

Biden made his comments after an aerial tour of the bridge, which was struck by a cargo ship on March 26, snarling ship and vehicle traffic for the busy port of Baltimore.

"We're going to move heaven and earth to rebuild this bridge as rapidly as humanly possible," Biden said.

"We're going to do so with union labor and American steel," Biden said.

Marine One with President Biden onboard makes an aerial tour of the collapsed Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore on April 5.
Brendan Smialowski / AFP via Getty Images
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AFP via Getty Images
Marine One with President Biden onboard makes an aerial tour of the collapsed Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore on April 5.

The House Freedom Caucus has issues with the funding

Biden has promised from the outset that the federal government would pay for the bridge to be rebuilt. His comments on Friday came after the House Freedom Caucus — the conservative wing of the House of Representatives — released a series of conditions for federal funding for the bridge.

The conditions include waiving environmental and union wage regulations "to avoid all unnecessary delays and costs." The conservative group also said in a statement that the government should first seek compensation from foreign shipping companies responsible for the damage.

Biden said he was committed to ensuring parties responsible for the damage pay for repairs and are held accountable to the extent possible, but said the port could not afford to wait.

Shalanda Young, the director of the Office of Management and Budget, sent a letter to Congress requesting them to authorize a 100% federal cost share for rebuilding the bridge.

"The authorization would be consistent with past catastrophic bridge collapses, including in 2007, when the Congress acted in a bipartisan manner within days of the I35W bridge collapse in Minnesota," she wrote.

The Freedom Caucus also wants Biden to allow new LNG terminals

The conservative group joined House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., in a renewed push to get the administration to lift its pause on building new terminals to export liquefied national gas (LNG).

"The Biden administration's pause on approvals of liquified natural gas export terminals – which, like the Baltimore harbor closure, has severe implications for foreign trade – must be lifted before Congress considers appropriating any funding for the bridge reconstruction," the group said.

The Biden administration froze approvals for new terminals pending a review of the long-term impacts of the industry on climate.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Franco Ordoñez is a White House Correspondent for NPR's Washington Desk. Before he came to NPR in 2019, Ordoñez covered the White House for McClatchy. He has also written about diplomatic affairs, foreign policy and immigration, and has been a correspondent in Cuba, Colombia, Mexico and Haiti.
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