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Quest Means Business

Donald Trump Signs COVID-19 Relief And Government Funding Bill; Second Vaccine Could Be Rolled Out In U.K. As Soon As Next Week; Biden Speaks After Briefing On National Security Threats He Will Inherit. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired December 28, 2020 - 15:00   ET



ZAIN ASHER, CNN INTERNATIONAL HOST: All right, let's take a look at the Big Board right now. Wall Street is soaring to new records after the Holiday

break as the market certainly buoyed by that stimulus relief bill.

Those are the markets and this is the day so far.

A day late and many dollars short. Donald Trump finally signs a COVID relief package. Today could be costly to those who need the money most.

And British authorities look at authorizing the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine. It would be welcome news as the country sets new record for COVID cases.

And the nature of work changed overnight in 2020. As we enter the New Year this week, still working from home. We'll examine the changes that could

become permanent.

Coming to you live from New York. It is Monday, December 28th. I'm Zain Asher in for my colleague, Richard Quest and this is QUEST MEANS BUSINESS.

All right, after a week of uncertainty, help is on the way to millions of hours of out of work Americans and the U.S. economy. President Trump

finally signing a $900 billion dollar COVID Relief Bill ending his 10th standoff with Congress.

The bill restores jobless benefits offered to Americans because of the pandemic. It is part of a larger spending measure that averts a government

shutdown. It's unclear what prompted the President's change of heart. Sunday, he refused to sign the bill when it first reached his desk claiming

last week that some economic relief measures did not go far enough.

John Harwood is in Washington for us. So John, yes, a government shutdown has certainly been averted, so that's good news there. But just in terms of

the President's delay, what sort of consequences will that have, in terms of unemployment insurance for millions of Americans?

JOHN HARWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I think the biggest consequence, Zain is that there are going to be several millions of

Americans who do miss out on one week of unemployment check because the President did not sign this legislation by the beginning of the workweek on

Sunday or the calendar week on Sunday.

So people are going to have to restart that process, states are going to have to adjust. It is possible that some states could figure out a way to

patch over that delay, but we're expecting that unemployment checks will be interrupted for some people.

It's possible, there also could be a delay in getting out the stimulus checks, the $600.00 per person, $2,400.00 for a four-person household,

which is vitally needed for many people as economic activities going sideways in the pandemic.

ASHER: So why did the President delay signing this bill? And obviously, he wasn't happy with certain provisions. He wanted more direct payments to


So why the delay in signing it? And then why did he suddenly change his mind?

HARWOOD: Zain, I don't think it was because he was upset with provisions of the bill. If the President had been concerned about provisions of the bill,

he identified some foreign aid programs, those were included in his own budget. He wouldn't have put them in the budget if he was upset with them.

He cited the need for $2,000.00 stimulus checks rather than $600.00 checks. If he really wanted to secure a $2,000.00 stimulus checks, he would have

entered into the negotiations in a very visible, vocal public way to try to make that happen. He did not do that.

And I think the reason that he intervened was that he wanted attention. He sees that attention shifting to Joe Biden. He is only going to be President

for three more weeks. Power is draining away from him and this was an immature leader's way of saying, look at me, I still count, I still matter,

you still need my assent for this bill to become law.

He did that. He succeeded in getting all of us to pay attention to him. The world was watching to see, is he going to sign the bill. But in the end, he

finally acceded to the arguments, which were of course, very valid arguments that if you don't sign the bill, if you let the legislation lapse

as the Congress lapses, and this relief doesn't happen, it's going to have a terrible impact on the economy and it's going to impoverish millions of

the people who voted to elect you President four years ago. That will be a stain on your record.

The President cares about what makes him look good. That would have made him look very bad. So he avoided it.

ASHER: All right, John Harwood live for us there. Thank you so much.

Investors see the spending and relief bill as a belated Christmas gift. The Dow is hitting fresh record highs, but for some Americans, the help simply

comes too late.

By waiting until Sunday to sign the Bill, as John was just talking about there, the President caused some benefits to lapse costing millions of

Americans a week's worth of unemployment pay.


ASHER: Catherine Rampell joins us live now from New York. So, Catherine, one sort of interesting key area where Democrats and the President actually

agree on, this idea that Americans deserve $2,000.00 in direct payments. Just walk us through what the economic impact.

I mean, obviously, whether or not the G.O.P. goes along with that, that's a completely different issue altogether. But what would be the direct impact

on the economy of ordinary Americans unemployed, out of work, being able to have access to that sort of money?

CATHERINE RAMPELL, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: You're right, these are very strange bedfellows you have. Those on the left plus President Trump and a

few other populists on the right arguing for this.

The economic effect of this is -- it's a little bit unclear, because these are not terribly targeted payments, right? They are nearly universal. There

is an income eligibility cutoff and a phase out.

But even so at the $600.00 level, which is what the program looks like in the bill that President Trump actually signed, they would go to some 89

percent of households. If you expanded the generosity of those payments to $2,000.00, because of some funky ways that the phase out works, they would

be eligible, or they would go to some 94 percent of households.

And remember, not all Americans are suffering, at least financially from this crisis, a large share of the population is doing okay. In fact, more

than okay, their savings are up. They still have their jobs, their 401 (k) look pretty flush. Their houses are more valuable.

So for that portion of the population, it's not clear that they will actually spend the money, particularly if there isn't a lot of, you know,

sort of leisure activity for them to spend the money on.

Meanwhile, there is a portion of the population that is desperately struggling, people who have lost their jobs, who are hungry, who are facing

eviction and homelessness and whatnot. And they desperately need those funds, but it probably won't be enough to keep them afloat.

So you know, it's an appealing, popular proposal, because it is almost universal, but it's not terribly targeted and because it's not terribly

targeted, the actual overall macroeconomic impact may not give you as much bang for the buck as something like, you know, more weeks of unemployment


ASHER: I mean, you make a great point, and that is that not everyone has been affected by this pandemic, financially, equally at all. This is very

divided. This is a very divided country, not just politically, but also economically, as well.

John was just talking about the economic impact in terms of the President's delay in actually signing the bill. I'm wondering what the political

consequences are in terms of his delay in signing that bill as well, especially when it comes to the G.O.P. and their chances in the Georgia

Senate runoff? What are your thoughts on that?

RAMPELL: Well, it really depends on whether they're able to sort of backfill this potentially missing week of benefits for people who could

miss out because of this unnecessary tantrum driven delay.

But look, if I were the Republicans running for Senate races in Georgia, I would be pretty mad right now. Because this just brings into greater

relief, the fact that it's Republicans who have been standing in the way of more generous aid, whether that looks like you know, more generous per

person stimulus checks, or unemployment benefits.

So the optics are not great. The political fallout for Trump's own party, not great, which again, raises the question of why did he bother doing this

other than to get a little more attention for himself?

ASHER: Yes, even John Harwood certainly saying the same thing there. Catherine Rampell live for us. Thank you so much.

All right, the U.K. could have a second vaccine by this time next week. We will be discussing a potential AstraZeneca rollout. That's next here on




ASHER: This December has been marked by a surging pandemic all over the world. The concern now is that the Holiday season will cause an even worse

spike in the weeks and months to come.

In the U.S. alone, 1.2 million people flew on the Sunday after Christmas. Dr. Anthony Fauci now echoing President-elect Joe Biden. They both warn

that the darkest days in terms of this pandemic are still ahead. Israel, Japan and even China are implementing new restrictions in response to

growing infections.

Europe likewise is struggling. The U.K. recording its highest daily rise in cases since the pandemic began, but the entire continent has new cause for

hope with vaccine rollouts now underway in the E.U., a second vaccine could be rolled out in the U.K. as soon as next week.

All right, it looks as though President-elect Joe Biden is speaking now in Delaware. Let's listen in.

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENT ELECT OF THE UNITED STATES: Federal, state and local law enforcement working around the clock to gain more information on

motive and intent. This bombing was a reminder of the destructive power that an individual or a small group can muster and the need for continuing

vigilance across the board.

I want to thank the police department in Nashville, particularly those five police officers who worked so quickly to evacuate the area before the

explosion occurred, risking their own lives, and for all the firefighters and first responders who jumped into action early on that Christmas

morning, last Christmas morning.

Their bravery and cool-headedness likely saved lives and prevented a worse outcome, and we are eternally grateful to that law enforcement agency.

And I know the hearts of all Americans are with the people of Nashville as they rebuild and recover from this traumatic event.

Now Vice President Harris and I, along with our nominees to lead the national security institutions, have just been briefed by some of the

professionals who have been conducting agency reviews as a part of our transition. It's a longstanding part of the orderly transition of power in

American democracy. We welcomed teams from the incoming Trump/Pence administration four years ago, gave them access to all that we had.

And over the past few weeks, teams of genuine policy and management experts, many of them of previous government experience, who have gone into

agencies across the government to conduct interviews of personnel to gather information, and to assess the state and federal government-- excuse me --

that we will shortly inherit.

These teams worked under incredibly difficult circumstances, taking COVID- 19 precautions and waiting weeks for the ascertainment, meaning that so they could go in and be cleared to go in. But they have done an outstanding


For some agencies, our teams received exemplary cooperation from the career staff in those agencies. From others, most notably the Department of

Defense, we encountered obstruction from the political leadership of that department.

And the truth is, many of the agencies that are critical to our security have incurred enormous damage. Many of them have been hollowed out in

personnel, capacity and in morale, and the policy processes that have atrophied or have been sidelined, in the despair of our alliances and the

disrepair of those alliances, in our absence from key institutions that matter to the welfare of the American people, and in general disengagement

from the world.


BIDEN: And all of it makes it harder for our government to protect the American people, to defend our vital interests in a world where threats are

constantly evolving and our adversaries are constantly adapting.

Rebuilding the full set of our instruments of foreign policy and national security is a key challenge that the Vice President-elect Harris and I will

face upon taking office, starting with our diplomacy.

Today, we heard from the leaders of the state and USAID agency review teams about the critical investment we are going to need to make in our

diplomacy, in our development efforts and in rebuilding our alliances, to close the ranks with our partners and bring to bear the full benefits of

our shared strength for the American people.

When we consider the most daunting threats of our time, we know that meeting them requires American engagement and American leadership, but also

that none of them can be solved by America acting alone.

Take climate change, for example. The United States accounts for less than 15 percent of the global carbon emissions. But without clear, coordinated

and a committed approach from the other 85 percent of the carbon emitters, the world will continue to warm, storms will continue to worsen, climate

change will continue to threaten the lives and livelihoods and public health and economics of our existence and our -- literally, the very

existence of our planet.

We have learned so painfully this year the cost of being unprepared for a pandemic that leaps borders and circles the globe. If going to -- if we're

not investing with our partners around the world to strengthen the health systems everywhere, we're undermining our ability to permanently defeat

COVID-19 and we're leaving ourselves vulnerable to the next deadly epidemic.

And, as we compete with China to hold Chinese government accountable for its trade abuses, technology, human rights, and other fronts, our position

was much stronger, when we build coalitions of like-minded partners and allies that make common cause with us, in defense of our shared interests

and our shared values.

We make up only 25 percent -- almost 25 percent of the entire economy of the world. But, together with our democratic partners, we more than double

our economic leverage.

On any issue that matters to the U.S. and China relationship, from pursuing a foreign policy for the middle class, including a trade and economic

agenda that produces and protects American workers or intellectual prosperity and the environment, to ensuring security and prosperity in the

Indo-Pacific region, to championing human rights, we're stronger and more effective when we're flanked by nations that share our vision in the future

of our world.

That's how we multiply the impact of our efforts and make those efforts more sustainable. That's the power of smart, effective American leadership.

But, right now, there's an enormous vacuum. We're going to have to regain the trust and confidence of a world that has begun to find ways to work

around us or work without us.

We also heard from key leaders of our intelligence and defense review teams, including Stephanie O'Sullivan, former principal deputy director of

the national intelligence, and retired Army Lieutenant General Karen Gibson.

We talked about the different strategic challenges we're going to face from both Russia and China and the reforms we must make to put ourselves in the

strongest possible position to meet those challenges.

That includes modernizing our defense priorities to better deter aggression in the future, rather than continue -- rather than continuing to overinvest

in legacy systems designed to address threats of the past. We have to be able to innovate, to reimagine our defenses against growing threats in new

realms like cyberspace.

We're still learning about the extent of the SolarWinds hack and the vulnerabilities that have been exposed. As I said last week, this attack

constitutes a grave risk to our national security. We need to close the gap between where our capabilities are now and where they need to be to better

deter, detect, disrupt and respond to those sorts of intrusions in the future.


BIDEN: This is an area Republicans and Democrats are in agreement. And we should be able to work on a bipartisan basis to better secure the American

people against malign cyber-actors.

And, right now, as our nation is in a period of transition, we need to make sure that nothing is lost in the handoff between administrations. My team

needs a clear picture of our force posture around the world and our operations to deter our enemies.

We need full visibility into the budget planning under way at the Defense Department and other agencies in order to avoid any window of confusion or

catchup that our adversaries may try to exploit.

But, as I said from the beginning, we have encountered roadblocks from the political leadership at the Department of Defense and the Office of

Management and Budget. Right now, we just aren't getting all the information that we need for the ongoing, outgoing and -- from the outgoing

administration in key national security areas.

It's nothing short, in my view, of irresponsibility.

Finally, we spoke about the day one challenge that we're going to need to address immediately, drawing on the skill set of the Department of Homeland

Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

We were briefed on the steps needed to clean up the humanitarian disaster that the Trump administration has systematically created on our southern

border. We will institute humane and orderly responses. That means rebuilding the capacity we need to safely and quickly process asylum

seekers, without creating near-term crisis in the midst of this deadly pandemic.

These are hard issues. And the current administration has made them much harder by working to erode our capacity. It's going to take time to rebuild

that capacity. We're going to work purposefully, diligently and responsibly to roll back Trump's restrictions starting on day one.

But it is not as simple as throwing a switch to turn everything back on, especially amid a pandemic. We will have to have a process to ensure

everyone's health and safety, including the safety of asylum seekers hoping for a new start in the United States free of violence and persecution.

Of course, an essential part of this will be managing the safe, equitable, and efficient distribution of vaccinations to as many Americans as possible

as quickly as possible.

F.E.M.A. has an enormous part to play in this and we heard from the former F.E.M.A. Director Craig Fugate today. Want to make sure that our

administration is poised to make full use of F.E.M.A.'s domestic reach and capacity in managing our COVID response.

And finally, from every briefer, I was heartened, I was literally heartened to hear about the incredible strength we will be inheriting and the career

professionals who are working, people across these agencies. They never stopped doing their jobs and continue to serve our country day in and day

out to keep their fellow Americans safe, just as they have always done.

These agencies are filled with patriots who have earned our respect and who should never be treated as political footballs. I'm looking forward to the

honor of working with them again, to asking for their advice and inputs, to help shape the best possible policies for all Americans.

And I want to thank the incredible folks who have served on these agency review teams as part of this transition. They have dedicated their time and

energy, their vital experience and expertise to help ensure Vice President Harris and I are ready to hit the ground running.

And we look forward to the start of a New Year, fresh with hope and possibilities for better days to come, but clear-eyed, clear-eyed about the

challenges that will not disappear overnight.

I want to reiterate my message to the American people. We have overcome incredible challenges as a nation, and we have done it before, and we will

do it again. We will do it by coming together, by uniting after years of pain and loss, a year particularly needed to heal, to rebuild, to reclaim

America's place in the world.


BIDEN: This is the work that lies ahead of us, and I know we're up to the task. We will champion liberty and democracy once more. We will reclaim our

credibility to lead the free world. And we will once again lead not just by the example of our power, but by the power of our example.

God bless you all, and may God protect our troops. Thank you.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: You have been listening to President-elect Joe Biden speaking from Wilmington, Delaware, talking about the major national

security and foreign policy challenges he expects to face when he takes office on January 20.

The President-elect emphasized the importance of building and rebuilding relationships with allies, but he also strongly criticized the Trump

administration, not only for alienating allies, but also, specifically, he accused some political leaders in the Trump administration obstructing

efforts of his team to begin the transition process and learn everything they need to learn.

The President-elect also addressed to the suicide bombing in Nashville on Christmas Day. He thanked the first responders, who almost certainly saved

lives by clearing the area before the explosion.

We should note that President Trump has not yet addressed the suicide bombing.

CNN's M.J. Lee is live for us in Wilmington. And, M.J. has the president- elect laid out any detailed plans about how he's going to confront some of these challenges when it comes to, for instance, climate change and

rebuilding alliances?

M.J. LEE, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, one thing that has been so striking about watching Joe Biden today is that you know, as a presidential

candidate, one of his biggest assets that he put forward was his deep foreign policy experience, that he was Vice President for eight years, that

he was very familiar being on the world stage.

But his transition has been so consumed by domestic issues, namely, of course, COVID-19 and the economic crisis. And today was just a real

reminder that, of course, when he becomes President on January 20, there are a number of national security challenges that he is going to inherit as


I mean, you look at some of the things that he talked about behind that podium there today, talking about how agencies have been followed -- have

been hollowed out by President Trump, that there has been -- there have been international alliances that have simply been weakened under President

Trump's reign.

He said there was a general disengagement from the world that has made it more difficult to protect American people and that rebuilding foreign

policy is going to be simply one of his biggest challenges both for him and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, and then just talking more broadly

about this world view that Trump's idea of sort of going at it alone simply does not work, that his belief is that, to tackle some of these global

challenges, including, as you mentioned, climate change, that it can't be America acting alone, but they have to work with other countries around the

world, and that this is sort of one of the biggest contrast for him that he is going to bring to the table when he gets to the White House.

Obviously, COVID did remain a focus as well. And he talked briefly about the vaccination distribution process. And I should note quickly, tomorrow,

he is going to be giving a speech here in Wilmington that is solely focused on COVID-19 again -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, M.J. Lee in Wilmington, Delaware, thanks so much. Appreciate it.

Let me bring in a panel to discuss. And, Jackie Kucinich, let me start with you.

President-elect Biden saying there that his transition team has hit what he called roadblocks with The Pentagon. And he called the lack of

coordination, cooperation and transparency from certain political leaders in the Trump administration nothing short of, in his view,


That's -- for Biden, who is trying to have a smooth transition process --

ASHER: All right, you've been watching CNN's coverage of President-elect Joe Biden's speech on national security and foreign policy. I am Zain

Asher. "Inside Africa" is up next after a short break.