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Maryland vows aggressive push for federal help in rebuilding the collapsed bridge

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Maryland lawmakers are vowing to aggressively pursue federal relief dollars to rebuild the collapsed Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore and reopen the city’s large port, though it’s still too early to accurately assess the cost and scope of the disaster.

“This is not just about the state of Maryland,” Democratic Gov. Wes Moore said at a press conference on Wednesday, stressing the national importance of the Port of Baltimore as he argues for federal dollars. “This is about the farm worker in Kentucky. It’s about the auto dealer in Michigan. The port of Baltimore is that important to our national economy.”

Rep. David Trone (D-Md.), a senior appropriator who’s also seeking the state’s open Senate seat, said in a statement Wednesday the delegation was pursuing “quick release” emergency funding in conjunction with Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and the “urgent deployment” of transportation funds already approved by Congress.

“This will be a team effort through and through,” he said. “We have a long road ahead of us, but we will come back stronger — together.”

Congressional Republicans and the White House are signaling they’re ready to deliver significant backup. President Joe Biden vowed on Tuesday that the federal government should “pay for the entire cost of reconstructing that bridge” in televised remarks.

“This is what we are supposed to do in government,” Rep. Jeff Van Drew (R-N.J.), a member of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, told Fox Business on Wednesday. “[That] doesn’t mean just spend more money, but it also means use existing dollars and see if we need more dollars to get this done.”

Congress has historically been able to move swiftly in the aftermath of major disasters, though lawmakers are currently slated to be away from Washington until the week of April 8. Back in 2007, they approved emergency funds for a collapsed bridge in Minnesota within just five days.

Aides on both the Senate and House Appropriations Committees did not immediately answer questions about next steps on Wednesday. Lawmakers just completed work on fiscal 2024 government funding measures and are expected to pursue emergency funding for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan when they return. That national security package could be a tempting vehicle to attach Baltimore funding, though no congressional leaders have publicly floated that possibility yet.

Rep. Andy Harris, a senior appropriator and the lone Maryland Republican in the federal delegation, said one of his priorities is removing bureaucratic hurdles to rebuilding the bridge, aiming for the project to be a “a three- or four-year” effort rather than longer.

“It will take years. There’s no question about it,” Harris told Fox Baltimore. “Obviously for the bridge replacement, we will” need congressional funding.

For now, there doesn’t appear to be any congressional opposition to helping Baltimore rebuild.

“Whatever resources can be made available, we should be making available,” Sen. Laphonza Butler (D-Calif.) told reporters at the Capitol on Tuesday. “I would hope that as a joint body, we will get that done.”

Ursula Perano contributed.