Apr 2, 2024

The Baltimore bridge collapse.

Port of Baltimore — VoxEfx
Port of Baltimore — VoxEfx

The Francis Scott Key Bridge's collapse, and an update from our break.

I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, nonpartisan, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum on the news of the day — then “my take.”

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Today's read: 14 minutes.

The Francis Scott Key Bridge collapse. Plus, we catch up on what we missed while we were on break, and a special announcement.

Tangle Live guest speakers announced + VIP giveaway!

We are excited to reveal our final guest speakers for the upcoming live show in New York City at City Winery on Wednesday, April 17th! Tangle Founder Isaac Saul will be moderating a discussion about the 2024 election with Josh Hammer from Newsweek, Kmele Foster from The Fifth Column, and Catherine Rampell from the Washington Post. 

GA tickets for our show at City Winery are SOLD OUT — but there are still limited VIP tickets available

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  • An exclusive post show group discussion with Tangle Founder Isaac Saul.
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Contest entries must be submitted by Monday, April 8th with the winner being announced on Tuesday, April 9. 

Don’t miss out! Enter here.

A note to readers.

Isaac here! I just wanted to remind our faithful Tangle readers that I am traveling abroad and, due to a huge time zone difference, I’ll be working as both an editor and contributing writer this week while the Tangle team compiles the newsletter. As part of this little experiment, we’re going to publish “Our take” — written collaboratively by the entire Tangle editorial staff — rather than “My take.” I’ll still be involved, but we wanted to be as transparent as possible about our process the next few days.

News we missed.

We’ve been off since Thursday, March 28th. Here are a few of the major stories that broke while we were gone.

  1. The International Court of Justice called on Israel to allow unimpeded humanitarian aid into Gaza. (The order) Separately, Israel said it intercepted an Iranian weapons shipment on its way to the West Bank. (The seizure)
  2. The House Oversight Committee invited President Biden to testify in their impeachment inquiry on April 16.
  3. ​​Sam Bankman-Fried, the founder of the cryptocurrency exchange FTX, was sentenced to 25 years in prison for securities fraud. (The sentence)
  4. Former U.S. Senator Joe Lieberman (D-CT), who ran as Al Gore’s running mate in 2000, died at the age of 82. (His life) Separately, Rep. Annie Kuster (D-NH) said she will retire after six terms in the House. (The announcement)
  5. A federal appeals court said a requirement for Pennsylvania voters to put accurate handwritten dates on their mail-in ballot envelopes does not violate a civil rights law. (The ruling) Separately, South Carolina’s 2024 congressional map will remain as drawn after a lower court rejected it for unconstitutional racial gerrymandering. (The map)

Quick hits.

  1. The Florida Supreme Court ruled on Monday that the state constitution’s privacy protections do not extend to abortion, effectively allowing the state to ban abortions after six weeks. However, the court also ruled that voters can cast ballots on a proposed constitutional amendment that would guarantee the right to abortion before viability, usually around 24 weeks. (The ruling)
  2. Seven workers from the World Central Kitchen were killed in Gaza by an Israeli strike that hit their vehicles while they were traveling through a “deconflicted zone” to deliver aid. The World Central Kitchen said it is immediately halting its operations in Gaza. (The strike
  3. Israeli forces withdrew from Gaza City's al-Shifa hospital after a two-week raid. Israeli officials called the operation a victory and said no civilians inside the hospital were harmed, while the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry said there was evidence of Israeli forces harming medical workers and journalists in and around the hospital. (The raid) Separately, an airstrike on the Iranian consulate in Syria ​​killed at least seven Iranian military officers, including two senior commanders. Iran accused Israel of carrying out the attack, but Israel has neither confirmed nor denied responsibility. (The attack)
  4. Donald Trump secured a $175 million bond to guarantee his civil fraud judgment, preventing authorities from seizing his assets to cover his liability as he appeals two rulings against him in New York. (The bond)
  5. U.S. traffic deaths fell 3.6% in 2023, the second straight year that fatalities decreased even as Americans drove 67.5 billion more miles last year than the previous year. (The numbers)

Today's topic.

The bridge collapse in Baltimore. On Tuesday, March 26, a cargo ship lost power as it was leaving the Port of Baltimore and allided with Baltimore’s Francis Scott Key Bridge, causing a portion of it to collapse. The allision killed two construction workers on the bridge, while four others are missing and presumed dead, and halted vessel traffic in and out of the Port of Baltimore. The operators of the ship, named the Dali, issued a mayday call moments before impact, allowing law enforcement to stop traffic from entering the bridge but failing to prevent the crash. 

Eight construction workers were on the bridge when it collapsed, and two were rescued shortly after. Alejandro Hernandez Fuentes, 35, and Dorlian Ronial Castillo Cabrera, 26, are the two victims who have been identified so far. The search for additional victims is temporarily paused as officials work to clear debris around the crash site. No one on the Dali was injured, though the 22-member Indian crew is stuck aboard, with necessary provisions, until the wreckage is cleared. 

The Dali, which is registered in Singapore, was departing Baltimore for Sri Lanka with 4,700 shipping containers and carried 1.5 million gallons of fuel and lubricant oil for its voyage. The ship is a member of a new class of larger vessels that have grown increasingly popular after locks in the Panama Canal were expanded in 2016 to accommodate larger ships. Since then, the Port of Baltimore has installed new cranes capable of handling these larger container ships and dredged its harbor to the 50-foot depth needed to fit them, making it one of only three East Coast ports capable of handling such vessels.

Baltimore’s port, one of the busiest in the U.S., remains closed. The port handles the largest volume of automobile and light truck shipping in the country, supporting 15,300 jobs directly and an additional 140,000 related to port activities. 

The Francis Scott Key Bridge spanned 1.6 miles over the Patapsco River and carried about 35 million vehicles annually. It was last inspected in June 2023 and was rated in “fair” condition, but some experts have blamed its lack of pier protection as an exacerbating factor in its collapse. Others have suggested the bridge could not have endured a direct impact from such a massive ship, even with added structural protections. 

Billions of dollars in liability claims are expected from the various stakeholders in the allision, with some estimates pegging the total damages at $3 billion. On the day of the incident, President Joe Biden said the government would pay to rebuild the bridge, though only $60 million is immediately available from an emergency fund held by the Federal Highway Administration. “It’s my intention that the federal government will pay the entire cost of reconstructing that bridge,” Biden said. “And I expect the Congress to support my effort.”

“We still don’t fully know the condition of the portions of the bridge that are still standing or of infrastructure that is below the surface of the water,” Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said. “So rebuilding will not be quick or easy or cheap, but we will get it done.”

Today, we’re going to examine arguments about the factors that led to the crash and its aftermath, with perspectives from the left and right. Then, the Tangle staff will weigh in with our take. 


  • Commentators on both sides agree that federal and state officials will need to work together and cut red tape to ensure a timely rebuild. 
  • Most reject the narrative that policies derived from DEI initiatives played any role in the disaster. 
  • Finally, the left and right commend the fast response of local officials and law enforcement during the incident, crediting them with saving lives.

What the left is saying.

  • The left thinks the rebuilding effort will be an opportunity for political differences to be set aside in pursuit of a common goal. 
  • Some implore Biden to cut red tape to expedite the rebuilding process. 
  • Others criticize some of the rhetoric from the right about immigration in the aftermath of the crash.

The Washington Post editorial board called the disaster “a test for American leadership.”

“At a time when the nation seems ever more divided and the country’s political institutions are mired in disagreement and indecision, this tragedy can’t get caught up in partisan sniping. It’s a time to put aside differences, to rebuild and to tap what is still the United States’ greatest strength: its deep reservoir of native optimism,” the board wrote. Crews must now “remove the bridge debris from the waterway. That will take time and special equipment. The focus will then turn to rebuilding the roughly mile-long section of the bridge that was destroyed — perhaps even improving on the previous structure, for safety and throughput.”

“This is a moment for national unity — to ask how to help the families waiting to hear what happened to their loved ones and the first responders braving frigid waters, and to be ready to help rebuild. Almost a year ago, a bridge on Interstate 95 collapsed outside Philadelphia after a freak accident in which a truck carrying gasoline lost control and caught fire. But as the flames in that tragedy were brought under control, political leaders, union leaders and engineers came together and reopened part of that highway in an incredible 12 days.”

In Bloomberg, Matthew Yglesias wrote “in Baltimore, Biden can show how to build back faster.”

“A good way to start laying the groundwork would be to insist that a years-long planning process is not acceptable. This is, after all, a bridge that’s been there since 1977. Engineers know its starting point. They know its endpoint. They know how tall it has to be for ships to pass under it. They know which roads it connects to. In other words, a lot of planning has already been done. There’s no need to start from scratch,” Yglesias said. “We live in a world that inevitably requires tradeoffs. The contribution that only a politician can deliver to the planning process is to insist that it be done quickly.”

“Infrastructure veterans forecasting a years-long construction process are offering realistic estimates based on the normal political conditions facing projects of this scale. Political leadership would mean trying to convince both the state of Maryland and the White House that those conditions are not acceptable,” Yglesias wrote. “Neither Biden nor Buttigieg can let the rebuilding of the bridge itself be business as usual. And if they succeed in building back faster, maybe it can be a template — not just for how to respond to a transportation crisis, but for how to execute on public projects and help restore public confidence in government.”

In MSBNC, Alicia Menendez said the bridge “will be rebuilt by immigrants, like America itself.”

“Rebuilding Baltimore’s Francis Scott Key Bridge will require an all-hands-on-deck effort. The enormous undertaking will require all levels of government to work together to reconnect communities and clear a path for ships to enter the Port of Baltimore. If done right, it will show what good government can do,” Menendez wrote. “But it’s also essential to recognize the people who will do the heavy lifting in this effort. Local construction workers, many of them immigrants, will put things back together piece by piece.”

“That economic reality, immigrants making America great, is in stark contrast with what is being peddled in the right-wing echo chamber. Just hours after the bridge collapse, Fox Business host Maria Bartiromo tried to connect the tragedy to President Joe Biden’s handling of immigration at the U.S.-Mexico border,” Menendez said. “These performative gimmicks fly in the face of the truth and rob victims of their humanity. They are also a dangerous distraction in the aftermath of a crisis that demands clear and steady leadership.”

What the right is saying.

  • The right worries that the recovery from the crash will be impacted by the same problems that have hindered other U.S. infrastructure projects.
  • Some say the rebuilding process doesn’t have to be as expensive as Biden is making it out to be.
  • Others highlight laws that could impede an expedited rebuild. 

In National Review, John Fund argued the bridge collapse shows “we must reform how we build.”

“It is eye-opening to see progressives who have put up with such delays for decades suddenly so eager to sweep them away in the wake of the Baltimore disaster,” Fund wrote. “President Biden may indeed waive some environmental-impact rules in order to speed up the construction of the new Baltimore bridge. But the real question is: Why isn’t this done more often with ordinary projects, which now drag on forever? Why can’t the U.S. have nice, plentiful infrastructure?”

“California’s high-speed-train project, which has been in the works for 20 years and counting, is over budget by $100 billion and will likely never be finished. Last month, the final environmental-impact statement for the rebuilding of Union Station in Washington, D.C., was released after nine years of work,” Fund noted. “One of the major causes of the problem is that unions like green laws such as NEPA: As development slows down, inflated labor contracts can last longer, and lawyers from all sides can reap huge fees… Let’s hope the Key Bridge disaster focuses the country’s attention on the need for us to build things — something we used to excel in.”

In The Daily Signal, David Ditch explored “how to repair the Key Bridge without breaking the bank.”

“President Joe Biden has said that the federal government would foot the entire bill for rebuilding the bridge and demanded that Congress make it happen. While the collapse came as a surprise, nobody should be surprised that Biden’s immediate response was to call for more federal spending. Since taking office, Biden has signed trillions of dollars of spending increases into law and imposed more than $700 billion of additional costs through administrative decisions,” Ditch said. “Fortunately, it’s possible for Washington to help Maryland rebuild the bridge without driving the nation deeper into debt.

“First, all officials must be clear that the cost of rebuilding should mostly or entirely fall on the owners and operators of the ship, even if the incident was purely accidental. While litigation on such an important matter could take time to resolve, taxpayers shouldn’t be responsible for the cost of a privately caused disaster. Second, there’s no need for Congress to authorize new funding to begin the process of clearing the channel and rebuilding the bridge. In 2021, Congress passed a five-year, $1.2 trillion infrastructure package, the largest portion of which is devoted to roads and bridges. Rather than simply adding to the long-term debt, Congress has many options to repurpose funds from the 2021 bill.”

In Reason, Eric Boehm wrote about “the obscure protectionist law that will slow clean-up of the Baltimore bridge disaster.”

“Clearly, there's every reason to make sure the port can be reopened as quickly as possible. Buttigieg acknowledged as much on Wednesday, and said the White House had given a ‘clear directive’ to ‘tear down any barriers, bureaucratic as well as financial.’ But Buttigieg stopped short of naming any specific federal regulations that might be waived to speed along the recovery efforts in Baltimore. Here's one that should go right to the top of the list: The Foreign Dredge Act of 1906,” Boehm said. The Foreign Dredge Act “drives up shipping prices to places [like] Puerto Rico and Hawaii, adds traffic to American highways, and leaves sizable parts of the country without access to natural gas.

“Like the Jones Act, the Foreign Dredge Act is a purely protectionist law that forbids foreign-built dredges—vessels built to remove debris from waterways and to deepen and widen shipping channels—from operating in the U.S. Any foreign dredge caught doing work in American waters is subject to immediate forfeiture,” Boehm wrote. “Waiving the Foreign Dredge Act now might help in some small way—perhaps better dredges can be brought in from Canada or somewhere else nearby—but the collapse of the Key Bridge is a great reminder that we shouldn't wait until there's a crisis to start undoing bad laws.”

My take.

Reminder: "Our take" is a section where we share our own staff’s position on the arguments above. If you have feedback or criticism, don't unsubscribe! Our opinion is just one of many. Instead, write in by replying to this email, or leave a comment.

  • The focus should be on the loss of life, not on scoring political points — and, overall, that's where most of the focus is.
  • There are a lot of factors at play in an incident like this, but it was a freak accident in a mostly safe industry.
  • Even with complicated costs, we're optimistic the recovery will be swift.

In most ways, this shouldn’t be political. It was a freak accident. Obviously, the most important thing at moments like this is searching for those missing and caring for the grieving families of the dead.

And thankfully, the response from commentators on this issue has been pretty apolitical. At Tangle, we’ve all been heartened to see the agreement that this disaster was not the result of a crew acting irresponsibly. Rather, the disaster was curtailed by an urgent response to prevent the loss of even more lives. We’re glad to see the agreement — from across the political aisle — that the concerted actions of the ship’s crew with harbor workers and law enforcement should be applauded, and that the government needs to come together now to ensure a timely rebuild.

Depending on which side of the aisle you’re on, it’s probably tempting to bring the focus to one element of this story or another — the immigrant workers who lost their lives on the bridge, the vulnerability of key points in our supply chain, or the possible upgrades to some of our nation’s infrastructure. Each of those elements is definitely at play here, but it’s important to keep this story in perspective. DEI did not destroy the Francis Scott Key Bridge. Neither did capitalism. Neither did Joe Biden, a total lack of infrastructure investment, or an over-focus in infrastructure development. 

As shipping expert Salvatore R. Mercogliano wrote, this was a “black swan” event: Something that is incredibly rare, but inevitable in hindsight. While major events like the vessel Ever Given clogging the Suez Canal or Houthi rebels attacking ships in the Red Sea remain prominent in memory, the main story of the last 50 or so years of world trade is that shipping large freight, a risky endeavor by its nature, has been getting increasingly safer with time. “Thirty years ago, the world was losing over 200 ships a year. Only 38 succumbed in 2022,” Mercogliano said. 

We know it’s hard to say that while images of cargo ships clogging shipping lanes are fresh in our minds, but it’s true. Stories like this feel so powerful because they are so rare; and because they show how fragile our global trade systems can be. A power failure on one ship at the wrong time can cost lives and billions of dollars. Imagine what could happen to the global economy if the English Channel or the Malacca Strait became impassible for an extended period of time. 

As we rebuild and recover, questions of increasing resiliency will be front and center. Yes, many elements of our nation’s infrastructure should be improved — but we also need to increase the resiliency of other vital infrastructure that doesn’t appear to require immediate attention, as in the case of the Key Bridge. And when it comes to rebuilding, the best recent analogy isn’t any of those shipping incidents we already listed, but the collapse of a bridge carrying I-95 outside of Philadelphia last year after a tanker truck caught fire beneath the highway. As the Washington Post editorial board wrote (under “What the left is saying”), Pennsylvania officials initially estimated the bridge would take months to repair, causing massive disruptions to travel along one of the busiest parts of one of our nation’s busiest highways. And yet, 12 days after the collapse, the span reopened — thanks to a combination of emergency no-bid contracts, 24/7 repair crews, support from the federal government, and engineering ingenuity.

There are of course major differences between that I-95 collapse and the one in Baltimore, and we’re not suggesting that such a rapid recovery timeline is possible here — there is much more debris to clear from the crash site, and obviously it’s over water. But writers like Sean Kennedy had it right when he wrote that there are ways that our government can cut through red tape to get this rebuild done quickly and efficiently.

Lastly, there’s the question of the cost, which is an area where we’re more pessimistic. While some on the right have made the case that the bridge rebuild can be done without massive amounts of federal spending, there’s the simple reality that a disaster of this magnitude is going to cost a lot to remedy. Already, we’re seeing estimates that the bridge rebuild alone could be over $1 billion, and Biden has made no secret of his intent for the federal government to pay for it. He’ll likely need Congressional approval to secure the funds to do so, but the preliminary cost figures are a reminder of the huge financial toll this disaster will take. 

Ultimately, the bridge will need to be rebuilt. It should be rebuilt to be more resilient to future accidents, and it’s a good idea to use this moment to try to find other vulnerable areas in our nation’s infrastructure that can also be improved and secured. Even though this last incident was another indicator of how sensitive our trade infrastructure is, I’m optimistic that the rebuild will provide another example of how resilient our economy — and our people — still are.

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Under the radar.

A new survey from the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) found that one religious category in the U.S. is growing faster than all others: The religiously unaffiliated. Approximately 75% of the country still identifies with a faith tradition, but major religions — like Christianity — have seen their membership stagnate or decline over the past decade. Meanwhile, the percentage of Americans identifying as religiously unaffiliated rose from 21% to 26% between 2013 and 2023. In 2023, 47% cited negative teaching about or treatment of gay and lesbian people as an important factor in their choice to disaffiliate, up from 29% in 2016. The disaffiliation is not dispersed equally; Catholic affiliation has declined significantly while white evangelical Protestants, black Protestants, and Jewish Americans have retained their members at much higher levels. PRRI suggests their findings are indicative of “transformational changes” to the U.S.’s religious landscape “that could decide elections in 2024 and beyond.” PRRI has the story.


  • 1 million. The approximate number of cargo containers that passed through the Port of Baltimore in 2023, comprising 2.8% of the container volume shipped through East Coast ports. 
  • #17. The Port of Baltimore’s rank among U.S. ports for total tonnage of cargo handled each year.
  • 35. The number of major bridge collapses worldwide due to ship or barge allisions between 1960 andto 2015. 
  • Less than one minute. The time between the Dali’s impact with the Francis Scott Key Bridge and the bridge’s collapse.
  • 5. On a scale of zero to nine, the Francis Scott Key Bridge’s rating during its last federal inspection in 2023, one step above being deemed in “poor condition” and one below “satisfactory condition.”
  • 112,383. The weight, in metric tons, of the Dali when it left the Port of Baltimore on March 26. 
  • 40%. The percentage of U.S. international trade value accounted for by maritime vessels, according to a 2021 report from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics.
  • 18%. The percentage of U.S. GDP accounted for by goods carried by maritime vessels in 2020.

The extras.

Tuesday’s survey: 941 readers answered our poll on the crisis in Haiti with 56% saying the U.S. should support an international intervention. “International intervention in Haiti has never worked,” one respondent said.

What do you think should be the government response to the collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge? Let us know!

Have a nice day.

Cement, the key ingredient in concrete, is the source of 8% of the world’s emissions of carbon dioxide. Concrete is ubiquitous for good reason — its low cost and high durability make it an important material for building roads, bridges, and large buildings. Over the past decade, researchers at UCLA’s Institute for Carbon Management have been working on reducing the environmental harm from concrete. A startup based on their work, Concrete.ai, now says that field tests using its AI-driven software reduced emissions by 30% and also cut costs by more than $5 per cubic yard. “At some point we have to decide: Do we want to build new things and repair the infrastructure that we have,” said Concrete.ai co-founder Mathieu Bauchy. “And if we want that, we have to continue to work with cement and figure out how to use it more efficiently.” Forbes has the story.

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Isaac Saul
I'm a politics reporter who grew up in Bucks County, PA — one of the most politically divided counties in America. I'm trying to fix the way we consume political news.