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Quest Means Business

President Biden Speaks on Plan to Revive U.S. Economy; Biden Signs Order Working Toward $15 Federal Minimum Wage; Virgin Orbit Successfully Launches Rocket From 747; British PM Won't Rule Out New Border Controls. Aired 3-4p ET

Aired January 22, 2021 - 15:00   ET



RICHARD QUEST, CNN HOST: An hour to go of trading on Wall Street. The closing bell is 60 minutes away.

For the second straight session, the Dow is slipping, not hugely, we are down 114. We have been at much worse in the early mornings, so a bit of a

recovery. But this is profit taking. This is a breath. This is a pause after the gains of recent days.

The markets as they are and the day so far. Joe Biden is due to speak any minute now. This time it's his plans to revive the U.S. economy. You'll

hear him live on this program.

Boris Johnson says he can't rule out new border measures in Britain. The aim is containing coronavirus.

And the timetable for the next James Bond film shaken once again.

We are live in New York. It is Friday, the 22nd of January. I am Richard Quest, and yes, I mean business.

Good evening. On day two of his presidency, today, Joe Biden pivots from the pandemic to the economy. They are of course related. But we are

expecting to hear any moment from the president, and he might take questions from the press. It will be the first time since taking office

which was only yesterday.

But he is expected to sign two new Executive Orders aimed at addressing the economic hardships brought on by the pandemic. These orders can only do so

much to help the economy.

He was speaking earlier in the White House Briefing Room. Brian Deese, the Director of the National Economic Council warned of dire consequences if

Congress fails to cooperate on the new $2 trillion stimulus plan.


BRIAN DEESE, DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL ECONOMIC COUNCIL: We're at a precarious moment for the virus and the economy. Without decisive action, we risk

falling into a very serious economic hole, even more serious than the crisis we find ourselves in. And economists across the board, including

today, President Trump's former Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, arguing strenuously that now is the time for that type of

decisive action for the economy.


QUEST: The White House is calling this economic relief day. The President will sign two Executive Orders, one is promoting a $15.00 minimum wage for

Federal workers. It also reverses Trump era policies by restoring certain workplace protections.

The second makes it easier for Americans to get food assistance and helps with the delivery of direct stimulus payments.

John Harwood is in Washington. It is $2 trillion give or take. There are highly controversial aspects such as the minimum wage, the extension of

unemployment benefits and the duration and the amount that that will be done.

And yet, there is a consensus amongst economists that something like this or similar is needed. So, where's the opposition coming from?

JOHN HARWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: The opposition, Richard, is principally coming from Republicans who make the argument that we just

passed a $900 billion relief plan that was enacted in December. It is too early to invoke or to pass another very large package like that because

they make the argument they don't know that it's needed and with the vaccine coming, the pandemic crisis may be lifting and that cloud may be

lifting over the economy.

But it's pretty clear that the pandemic is at such a crisis level at the moment that looking at what happened in December may not be adequate for

this year. And in particular, the Biden administration hopes that some of this money for vaccine distribution, for example, for state and local aid,

states, of course, are the ones in charge of administering the vaccines, that those are going to speed recovery, and therefore you need to put money

in people's pockets and in government's coffers for those purposes.

QUEST: John, we're on a two-minute warning, which you know, better than me, whether that will be accurate. So I'll interrupt you, as -- if necessary.

Does Joe Biden have to spend a huge amount of political capital to get this through?

HARWOOD: Yes, he has no alternative. This is his program in a nutshell. First, the COVID relief bill, the executive authorities that he has invoked

under the Defense Production Act, the pandemic testing board he has created.

It's a much more vigorous use of Federal power than Donald Trump was willing to execute. The use of those powers combined with this money with a

follow-on package to create jobs through infrastructure and green energy jobs, that's going to come later. That's the core of the Biden program for

his first term. He is assured of Democratic majorities in the House and Senate for just the first two years.

QUEST: We need to interrupt you, John. John, I need to interrupt you for the President.


JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: ... that's led to the most unequal job and economic crisis in modern history. And the crisis is only

deepening. It's not getting better. It's deepening.

Yesterday, we learned that 900,000 more Americans filed for unemployment, 900,000. They joined millions of Americans who, through no fault of their

own, have lost the dignity and respect that comes with a job and a paycheck.

So many of them never thought they would ever be out of work in the first place, and just like my dad did when he used to lie awake at night when I

was a kid staring at the ceiling unable to sleep because he worried about whether or not he was about to lose his health care or whether we were --

going to be -- have the money to pay the mortgage because of the economic circumstance he was in.

And now a lot of these folks are facing eviction. They're waiting hours in their cars, literally hours in their cars, waiting to be able to feed their

children as they drive up to a food bank. This is the United States of America, and they are waiting to feed their kids.

Folks who were able to still keep their job, many have seen their paychecks reduced, and they have barely hanging on and wondering, what's next?

Sometimes, the anxiety about what's going to happen next is more consequential than what actually happened.

But this is happening today in America, and this cannot be who we are as a country. These are not the values of our nation. We cannot, will not let

people go hungry. We cannot let people be evicted because of nothing they did themselves. They cannot watch people lose their jobs, and we have to

act. We have to act now.

It's not just to meet the moral obligation to treat our fellow American with the dignity respect they deserve. This is an economic imperative, a

growing economic consensus that we must act decisively and boldly to grow the economy for all Americans, not just for tomorrow, but in the future.

There's a growing chorus of top economists that agree that, in this moment of crisis, with this -- with the interest rates as low as they are,

historic lows, it is smart fiscal investment, including deficit spending, and they are more urgent than ever.

You know, and that return on these investments and jobs and racial equity is going to prevent long-term economic damage, and benefits that are going

to far surpass their costs. If we don't act, the rest of the world is not standing still in terms of the competitive advantage or the competitive

possibilities relative to us.

That our debt situation will be more stable and not less stable, according to these economists, and that such investments in our people is going to

strengthen our economic competitiveness as a nation and help us outcompete our competitors in the global economy, because we're going to grow the

economy with these investments.

While the COVID-19 package that passed in December was the first step, as I said at the time, it was just a down payment. We need more action and we

need to move fast. Last week, I laid out a two-step plan of rescue and recovery, to get through the crisis and to a better and stronger and more

secure America.

The first step of our American Rescue Plan is a plan to tackle the pandemic and get direct financial relief to Americans who need it the most. You

know, in just a few days -- it's just been a few days since I outlined this plan -- and it's received bipartisan support from a majority of American

mayors and governors.

Businesses and labor organizations have together welcomed it as the urgent action that's needed. Even Wall Street firms have underscored its

importance. In fact, an analysis by Moody's estimates that if we pass our American Rescue Plan, the economy would create 7.5 million jobs just in

this year alone.

That would be on the way to the more than 18 million -- I think it was 18,600,000 jobs that they believe would be create over the four-year period

with our Build Back Better recovery plan. And with our American Rescue Plan, our economy would return to full employment a full year faster than

without the plan.


BIDEN: Even President Trump's -- President Trump's now, not some liberal organization, President Trump's top former economic adviser, Kevin Hassett,

said -- quote -- he "absolutely is in favor" of this rescue plan.

This almost doesn't have a partisan piece to it. We're seeing the support because this plan takes a step that we so urgently need, more than just a

step, a number of steps. It funds big parts of the COVID-19 national strategy they released yesterday, we released yesterday.

Our national strategy puts on -- us on a war footing to aggressively speed up our COVID-19 response, especially on vaccines and testing and reopening

our schools. I found it fascinating. Yesterday, the press asked the question, is a hundred million enough? A week before, they were saying,

Biden, are you crazy? You can't do 100 million in 100 days.

Well, we're going to, God willing, not only do 100 million. We're going to do more than that. But this is -- we have to do this. We have to move.

The American Rescue Plan also includes economic relief for most Americans who are in need. We're going to finish the job of getting a total of

$2,000.00 in direct payments to folks; $600.00, which was already passed, is simply not enough, if you still have to choose between paying your rent

and putting food on the table.

We will extend unemployment insurance benefits for millions of workers beyond the deadline that's now set. It means that 16 million Americans who

are currently relying on unemployment benefits while they look for work can count on these checks continuing to be there in the middle of this crisis.

The American Rescue Plan also addresses the growing housing crisis of America. Approximately, 14 million Americans, 14 million, have fallen

behind on rent, and many risk evictions. If we fail to act, there will be a wave of evictions and foreclosures in the coming months, as this pandemic

rages on, because there's nothing we can do to change the trajectory of the pandemic in the next several months.

So, look, this would overwhelm emergency shelters and increase COVID-19 infections, as people have to -- have nowhere to go and are socially --

can't socially distance. The American Rescue Plan asks Congress to provide rental assistance for millions of hard-hit families and tenants.

This will also be a bridge to economic recovery for countless mom-and-pop landlords who can't afford not to have the rent. But they can't wait.

So, on Inauguration Day, I directed my administration to extend nationwide restrictions on evictions and foreclosures. These crises are straining the

budgets of states and cities and tribal communities that are forced to consider layoffs and service reductions among essential workers.

Police officers, firefighters, first responders, nurses, they're all at the risk of losing their jobs. Over the last year, more than 600,000 educators

have lost their jobs in cities and towns.

The American Rescue Plan would provide emergency funding to keep these essential workers on the job and maintain essential services. Look, it will

also help small businesses that are the engines of our economic growth. When you say small business, most people think the major corporate entities

are the ones who hire everybody.

These small businesses are the glue that hold -- and they're important, but these small businesses hold the community -- the glue that hold these

communities together. They are hurting badly, and they account for nearly half of the entire U.S. work force, nearly half.

Our rescue plan will provide flexible grants to help the hardest-hit small businesses to survive the pandemic and low-cost capital to help

entrepreneurs of all backgrounds create and maintain jobs, plus provide essential goods and services that communities so desperately depend on.

Look, our recovery plan also calls for an increase in the minimum wage at $15.00 -- at least $15 an hour. No one in America should work 40 hours a

week making below the poverty line; $15.00 gets people above the poverty line. We have so many millions of people working 40 hours a week working,

and some with two jobs, and they're still below the poverty line.

Our plan includes access to affordable childcare. That's going to enable parents, particularly women, to get back to work, millions who are not

working now because they don't have that care.

All told, the American Rescue Plan would lift 12 million Americans out of poverty and cut child poverty in half. That's five million children lifted

out of poverty.


BIDEN: Our plan will reduce poverty in the black community by one-third and reduce poverty in the Hispanic community by almost 40 percent. I look

forward to working with Members of Congress of both parties to move quickly to get this American Rescue Plan to the American people.

And then we can move with equal urgency and bipartisanship to the second step of our economic plan, to Build Back Better, the recovery plan. It's a

plan that's going to make historic investments in infrastructure, manufacturing, innovation, research and development, and clean energy and

so much more that's going to create millions more jobs, good-paying jobs, not minimum wage jobs. While we work with members of both parties in the

Congress, there are steps that we can and must take right now.

For example, on Inauguration Day, I directed my administration to pause student loan repayments for interest for -- the interest payments for

Americans with Federal student loans until at least September. So they're not going to have to pay until September. They still pay the bill as it

stands now, but it will not accrue interest, and they don't have to pay, begin to pay until September.

And we may have to look beyond that, I might add. Today, I'm signing an Executive Order that directs the whole of government, a whole-of-government

effort to help millions of Americans who are badly hurting. It requires all Federal agencies to do what they can do to provide relief to families,

small businesses and communities.

And in the days ahead, I expect agencies to act.

Let me touch on two ways these actions can help change Americans' lives. We need to tackle the growing hunger crisis in America. One in seven

households in America, one in seven, more than one in five black and Latino households in America, report they do not have enough food to eat.

That includes nearly 30 million adults and as many as 12 million children. And, again, they're in this situation through no fault of their own. It's

unconscionable. The American Rescue Plan provides additional emergency food and nutrition assistance for tens of millions of children and families to

address this crisis.

But families literally can't wait another day. As a result of the executive order I'm going to shortly sign, the Department of Agriculture will

consider taking immediate steps to make it easier for the hardest-hit families to enroll and claim more generous benefits in the critical food

and nutrition assistance area.

It's going to help tens of millions of families, especially those who can't provide meals for their kids, who are learning remotely at home, are not

receiving the regular meal plans that they have at school for breakfast or lunch.

It's going to also -- we also need to protect the health and safety of the American worker. Right now, approximately 40 percent of households in

America have at least one member with a preexisting condition. Just imagine. You're out of work, through no fault of your own. You file for

unemployment while you're looking for a job.

You find one. And you get an offer. But then you find out there's a high risk of you getting infected with COVID-19 because of your condition. And

you and your loved ones have an even greater risk of death and serious illness because of preexisting conditions. So, you turn it down.

Right now, if you did that, you could be denied unemployment insurance, because you're offered a job, you didn't take it. It's wrong. No one should

have to choose between their livelihoods and their own health or the health of their loved ones in the middle of a deadly pandemic.

Because of the Executive Order I'm about to sign, I expect the Department of Labor to guarantee the right to refuse unemployment -- the employment

that will jeopardize your health, and if you do so, you will still be able to qualify for the insurance. That's a judgment the Labor Department will


Look, there are just two consequential ways that the action I'm taking today will help the people in need.

Another -- another way to help approximately two million veterans maintain their financial footing, by pausing Federal collections on overpayments and

debts. Another makes sure that Federal contractors who are receiving taxpayers' dollars to provide their workers with the pay and benefits they


These are places where Federal tax dollars are administered, are being made available to build things from ships to staircases. And we let out the --

the Federal government lets the contract. And we're going to make sure they buy American and are made in America.


BIDEN: And here's another. Right now, there are up to eight million people that are eligible for direct payments from the CARES Act and the relief

bill passed in December. They're entitled to those payments, but there's not an easy way for those folks to assess that -- access them.

So, we're making it a priority today to fix that problem and get them relief they're entitled to.

Look, I'm going to close and summarize this way. A lot of America is hurting. The virus is surging. We're 400,000 dead, expected to reach well

over 600,000. Families are going hungry. People are at risk of being evicted. Job losses are mounting again.

We need to act. No matter how you look at it, we need to act. If -- if we act now our economy will be stronger in both the short and long run. That's

what economists left, right and center are telling us, both liberal and conservative. We will be better and stronger across the board.

If we act now, we will be better able to compete with the world. If we act now, we will be better able to meet our moral obligations to one another as


I don't believe the people of this country just want to stand by and watch their friends, their neighbors, co-workers, fellow Americans go hungry,

lose their homes and lose their sense of dignity and hope and respect. I don't believe that, especially in the middle of a pandemic that's so

weakened and wrecked so much havoc and caused so much pain on America. That's not who we are.

The bottom line is this. We're in a national emergency. We need to act like we're in a national emergency. So, we have got to move with everything we

have got, and we have got to do it together. I don't believe Democrats or Republicans are going hungry and losing jobs. I believe Americans are going

hungry and losing their jobs. And we have the tools to fix it. We have the tools to get through this.

We have the tools to get this virus under control and our economy back on track. And we have the tools to help people. So, let's use the tools, all

of them. Use them now.

So, I'm going to sign this Executive Order, but let me conclude again by saying, folks, this is one of the cases where business, labor, Wall Street,

Main Street, liberal, conservative economists know we have to act now, not only to help people who are in need now, but to allow us to be in a

competitive position worldwide and be the leader of the world economy in the next year and two and three and going forward.

So, thank you. I'm going to sign this Executive Order.

The first one is the economic relief related to COVID-19 pandemic that I referenced.

The second one is protection -- protecting your Federal work force.

Thank you very much.

QUESTION: Mr. President, do you support Mitch McConnell's timeline for a February impeachment trial?

BIDEN: I haven't heard the detail of it, but I do think that having some time to get our administration up and running. We -- I want to thank the

Senate for passing out Secretary of Defense. It looks like our Secretary of Treasury and looks like our Secretary of State is in place.

So, the more time we have to get up and running and to meet these crises, the better.

Thank you.

QUEST: There's one difference. Donald Trump could never resist after an executive signing or anything like that, he could never resist taking loads

of questions.

The new President is more disciplined in that respect. He just answered one there about the impeachment, mentioning of course, that his nominees, the

big ones, if you like the Secretary of Defense, Treasury, Secretary of State, he has got the three great offices of state, they all look like

they're going through today.

John Harwood is with me. Nothing new there, John in what we heard on those Executive Orders. I cannot and will not let people go hungry. We have to


But what I found interesting is he has grounded this not in sort of wishy washy liberal, let's be nice, but in solid economics, pointing out that

economists on all sides approve of this, that this makes sense economically.


HARWOOD: Well, that is a message that has a lot of value to Joe Biden because of his commitment to try to bring the country together. He got a

boost, as he indicated, when Kevin Hassett, who was a former top economic adviser to Donald Trump said he agrees with this package. The U.S. Chamber

of Commerce has welcomed this package.

It is a fact that economists across the political spectrum believe the economy needs more assistance, and Joe Biden is pressing that advantage

trying to make the case in a way that Republican senators will hear.

There's no problem passing his program or something close to his program, through the House of Representatives. The question is, can you get it

through the Senate and how you get it through the Senate. If you do it through regular legislative procedures, you need 10 Republicans.

The White House top economic adviser Brian Deese is having a call over the weekend with a large group -- bipartisan group of senators trying to get

some sort of bipartisan consensus moving. That is how Joe Biden wants to govern, how he wants to move this first package forward.

If he can't do that, he will try a Democrats only approach which is restrictive, it lets you do fewer elements of the package. But his clear

preference, as he indicated today, was to think of this not as a Democratic package or a Republican package, but an American package that does what the

American economy needs.

QUEST: How much of a litmus test should we take this as? I mean, you said and it's accepted that pretty much everyone agrees something more needs to

be done. We're just arguing about the numbers and the makeup.

Now, if he can't get this through, is this a litmus test for how far McConnell is going to give the new President, cut him a bit of slack?

HARWOOD: Absolutely. This is the test because Joe Biden has just taken office. This is a program to respond to a crisis, a public health crisis

and economic crisis. The conditions will never be better for Joe Biden to get support from Republicans.

So if he does not get any now, that tells you he's not going to get it, period. And so this is a test of Joe Biden has said, I come out of a Senate

tradition where we were able to make deals across party lines. That's much less true today. I understand that, but I'm going to try.

What's important right now is that he is making that attempt and we'll see whether it will bear fruit. We're not going to know in a matter of days,

but we will know in a matter of weeks. And then Joe Biden will either have the consensus that he wants or will have to choose another path.

QUEST: Pretty galling if he doesn't get it done, in the sense that here's a man who spent decades in the Senate. You would have thought that -- I'm

just being naive here, John, feel free to push back -- you'd have thought that his old mates in the senate McConnell, you know, all the older

Republicans, all the older Democrats would have recognized that this is the moment.

HARWOOD: Yes, you would think that that would be true. He served 23 years in the Senate with Mitch McConnell. He served more years than that with

Chuck Grassley, almost 30 years with Chuck Grassley of Iowa. He served with for some length of time with 12 out of the 50 Republican senators, so yes,

they are his mates. He values personal relationships.

On the other hand, the partisan divisions within the United States have gotten increasingly rigid in recent years, and the Republican Party itself

has moved exceptionally far to the right so that Republican senators find it very difficult to make deals with Democratic Presidents at all. Barack

Obama found that out.

Mitch McConnell said his priority was to make Barack Obama a one-term President, he failed at that. But after winning the Senate in 2014, he was

able to prevent Barack Obama from even getting a vote on a nominee for the Supreme Court, Merrick Garland, who is now going to be Joe Biden's Attorney


So this is very difficult to do. That doesn't mean it's impossible, and we're going to find out whether Joe Biden can maximize that opportunity to

make it happen sometime in the next month or two.

QUEST: John, we are so grateful tonight. Thank you. You put us into a beautiful clear perspective first. Appreciate it.

Now, the push begins with a significant hike in the U.S. minimum wage. You heard Joe Biden talking about it $15.00 an hour. Well, the arguments are

really ramped up on both sides. We will talk about it about the break.

QUEST MEANS BUSINESS, good evening. It's Friday.



QUEST: Now you heard the new president with his new economic plan. Of all the measures he announced perhaps non-sparks as much emotion as the raising

of the federal minimum wage. Moments ago, Biden signed an executive order directing agencies to work towards $15 an hour particularly of course,

those with federal contracts. The plan is a key part of his $1.9 trillion relief bill.

He says the rationale is simple. Workers need help now.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No one in America should work 40 hours a week, making below the poverty line. $15 gets people above the

poverty line.


QUEST: For more than a decade, the U.S. federal minimum wage has been stuck at 7.25, $7.25. It wouldn't even buy you a couple of expensive Starbucks


Lawmakers periodically raise it to keep up with inflation. Some Republicans say there's no need to change it now. Jay Timmons is the head of the

National Association of Manufacturers. He warns higher wages could slow job growth. He's talking to Jr. Chatterley on first move.


JAY TIMMONS, PRESIDENT AND CEO, NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF MANUFACTURERS: As the administration rolls out their plan for a minimum wage, I think they

have to be very careful to take into account the differences in various areas of our country so that they don't have unintended consequences that

do is you kind of suggest could actually cost jobs in the long run.

We need to do this, or they need to do this in a very smart and strategic way so that they don't harm business's ability to grow and compete in this




QUEST: Rebecca Dixon is well familiar with that argument. He's the director -- Executive Director of the National Employment Law Project. And some of

her staff helped work on the Biden proposals with suitable Chinese walls between organizations.

But Rebecca, tell me, you know, the argument, there is nothing new in this argument, frankly, as for the 30, odd years, I've been covering business,

the minimum wage has had the same argument. So why is it different this time?

REBECCA DIXON, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, NATIONAL EMPLOYMENT LAW PROJECT: Richard, we've had a lot of experience with this. And the overwhelming

consensus of economists is that raising the minimum wage has no discernible effect on job growth.

Now, I know just saying this doesn't make it so. But jobs grow when there's higher demand for goods and services. And when people actually have more

disposable income, that's what's going to drive higher demand.

QUEST: But in those states, where they are already -- where they're just basically doing the minimum wage, or that if they're just doing the minimum

wage, to get to $15 an hour, is quite a jump. Would you not accept some form of phasing in different places at different times? Look $15 an hour

getting there in New York is here already. But in parts of Texas, it's not?

DIXON: Sure. So, one important thing to understand is that the federal jobs are actually -- so Biden is asking the agencies to prepare to raise this.

And part of what they need to prepare is to figure out what the impact of this is on the budget.

And so, contractors will actually be factoring the $15 minimum wage into their new contracts. And the federal government is paying the bill. So,

it's really not the same as the state minimum wage. And we really want the federal government to be the employer, the model employer, for the country.

QUEST: How realistic do you think, I mean, again, I don't want to be pessimistic on your behalf. But as long as I can recall, the two sides have

butted heads. And the President doesn't have that overwhelming majority, he would need to really railroad through the Senate.

DIXON: I think one of the things that where we have now is momentum. We have all of these states, including really conservative states, like

Florida, recently, have a ballot initiative to get to $15 an hour. So this is not -- this is in line with what the states are doing and where the

country is headed.

And I think it's also this growing movement of workers themselves, who are actually demanding that their representatives be accountable to them. So

I'm actually hopeful that, that the momentum that we have will continue.

QUEST: Rebecca, thank you. Thank you, Rebecca Dixon talks to me. While we were just talking to Rebecca, I was just doing -- I was just getting on my

calculator here. I've got one of these things where you can put in the dollars and it tells you what it is in different currencies.

So the $15, just think about this, in terms of your own lives. The $15 would be about 11 pounds an hour in the U.K., in the E.U. it would be 12

euros, 30 an hour. In Australia, it's just $19.45. And in Switzerland, it will be 13 Swiss francs 27. And you don't need to be an economist to know

that barely buys you anything in Switzerland.

And now ask yourself, how could I live on that? If I was paid that per hour? Richard Branson told me, it's wonderful that Joe Biden wants to

double the federal minimum wage.

Branson's Virgin Orbit also made history this week after air launching a rocket from under the wing of a 747. By the way, a 747 that used to fly

with Virgin Atlantic. One of his own planes that they rebranded.

So Richard told me it's a new era, both in space and in politics.


RICHARD BRANSON, FOUNDER, VIRGIN GROUP: I think that you know, that the well went backwards somewhat the last four years. You know, I was at the

Paris climate talks and campaigning to, you know, with the B team and with the elders to try to get back contract signed. And the last thing we

thought was that of all the countries in the world, America would pull out to the push to try to make sure that the world went in the right direction.

Wonderful that the very first thing that the Biden administration did was to resign to it.


And, you know, wonderful to see him suggesting a doubling of money for uniform, you know, minimum wages, you know a lot of things done in the

middle like the, you know, the pledge to get 100 million vaccinations over the next three months, you know, it's going to be hard. But, you know, that

is the one thing that can transform a lot of our businesses and a lot of other people's businesses that are suffering.

QUEST: Virgin or the I mean the pictures are stunning. The thing is a great idea. You must be very pleased. But I do wonder, will it be a commercial


BRANSON: Well, I don't think I was pleased to make as my two-year-old grandchild who couldn't stop saying appear on the moon hopper on the moon.

And obviously, not quite the moon, but the world actually does need an air launch way of getting satellites into space. A way that it can happen, you

know, 24 hours, 48 hours' notice, you can put them up.

And first of all, there are thousands of low Earth orbit satellites in space. And every five years they drop out. And when they draw high, there's

a gap. And generally, it takes about six months to book in a rocket to go up to replace that gap. We will be able to do it in, you know, 24, 48

hours, we can even do a couple of missions a day.

QUEST: Does it fit in with Virgin Galactic? I mean, I hesitate just because it's all about space. Therefore, it must all fit together. Is there a

synergy between the two?

BRANSON: I don't think there's a big synergy between the two. And that's why we split the two companies into two separate companies before we took

Virgin Galactic public. They, you know, one is taking people to space. The other one is basically taking satellites in space.

And the one that's taking satellites to space has also caught the Eye of Virgin Orbit, the eye of the U.S. air forces, the British air forces, the

Canadian air forces, the French air forces, I mean were basically Allied air forces because this is the only way that it satellites get knocked out

by a foreign power that they can get them replaced really quick.

And so, you know, so I think that we can also work with friendly governments to try to stockpile rockets and satellites and be able to put

them up anywhere in the world with any get lost.

QUEST: I was very sad to hear of the passing of your mother, Richard, who I'd met on, I remember that memorable flight down in the Keys. My

condolences, first of all to a great woman. But also, it is a reminder that although the vaccine tier we're not out of this yet, isn't it?

BRANSON: Yes. I mean mom is one of hundreds of thousands of people and hundreds of thousands of families who are afraid loss somebody through

this. And, you know, she, you know, middle ground age 96 is still happy, still partying, still smiling.

But we're not going to be able to do this until all vulnerable people are vaccinated. And I think, you know, three months from now, if governments do

their job right, I think, you know, they will in America, in Britain, most vulnerable people should be vaccinated.

I would just say though, having just been on the call about it, we shouldn't forget about the poorer countries like Africa and others. They,

you know, A, they're not getting almost any vaccines, B, it's in our interest but they get vaccinated as well. Otherwise, there is a danger.

We'll get new strains of vaccines -- new strains of the virus coming into America and coming into Europe.

So, governments have got to and the vaccine companies have got to make sure there's a fair distribution of vaccines.


QUEST: Sir Richard Branson talking to me. Boris Johnson says he can't roll out more border controls in Britain. Reports from Downing Street in just a




QUEST: It is call to earth, a global call to action on the environment. So for this week's edition, the crystal blue waters of the Maldives,

absolutely spectacular. And conservationists there are using data to help protect the world's largest recorded population of one of the most gorgeous

creatures in the water. The manta rays.


BETH FAULKNER, PROJECT MANAGER, MALDIVIAN MANTA RAY PROJECT (voice-over): Once you see a manta ray, there's no way you couldn't care about them.

Being in the woods with them, you understand how gentle they are, how charismatic they are. I'm Beth Faulkner, and I'm the project manager of the

Maldivian Manta Ray Project.

Maldivian Manta Ray Project first started in 2005 four seasons on the graph route. It's slowly expanded throughout the Maldives. In 2011, it was

decided that it wasn't enough to just focus on the mantas in the Maldives, and that they should be worked on worldwide. And this was when the Manta

Trust was formed.

Our purpose is basically to research the manta rays throughout the Maldives and learning more about their biology, their behavior, and also key

patterns in their movement.

Maldives has the largest population of manta rays ever recorded worldwide. We have a huge population which has reached nearly 5,000 now. In order to

identify manta ray, we will first take a photo of the belly of the Manta where the spots are.

We have a big brand cure (ph) gallery which includes every single belly of the mantas we've seen so far. We will then take all photographs and match

them to ones in the brand cure (ph) gallery.


(on camera): We're always very, very excited when we find a new Manta.

(voice-over): Manta rays face many challenges around the world, including targeted fisheries, accidental by catch, and habitat degradation. So here

in the Maldives, it's the loss of habitats that we're most worried about.

The oceans are warming, which means we're losing a lot of our corals that surround the islands.

(on camera): So here we have our contactless ultrasound. When we're in the water, we have this system like this, and the manta ray will be around

here, so we don't get too close. We don't want to scare them.

Just like if a human was pregnant, we get the same image that we get in hospitals, and it allows us to see if there's a puff inside the Manta.

(voice-over): Here at the Maldivian Manta Ray Project, we've been collecting data for the last 15 years. This data has allowed researchers to

identify key patterns in manta movements throughout the country. So it's allowed us to find key areas that the mantas rely on for their day-to-day

lives in order to try and get these areas protected.

(on camera): The more people are aware of manta rays and their environment, the more they're going to want to protect them.

(voice-over): By getting people to fall in love with manta rays, we can then help to encourage them to make changes in their day to day life and

work towards protecting not only the ocean environment, but the environments that make up our planet.


QUEST: By Jingo. I go into the weekend with a spring misstep, and a lighter heart after seeing those wonderful pictures of manta rays. And we will

continue to showcase inspirational stories like that as part of the call to Earth initiative. So, what are you doing? How are you taking part? Hashtag

Call to Earth. We'll have a chat about it.


QUEST: The Prime Minister Boris Johnson has warned that the new variant of coronavirus may be more deadly than the original strain. Nic Robertson

reports from Downing Street.



NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (on camera): We'll start news from the British Prime Minister saying that the U.K. variant of

COVID-19 may have higher mortality rate than the original COVID-19 virus. That, of course, a huge concern for hospitals here in the U.K. that are,

that are filling up the ICU units there for almost in some cases to essentially overflowing, almost to capacity in some hospitals. But of

course, it has global implications because the U.K. variant of the virus has spread.

Now, the Chief Scientific adviser then gave his detailed explanation of how to understand this sort of preliminary data that the prime minister was

talking about.

One of the key caveats he said was that the mortality rate if you compare the new variant with the old one for people in hospital and mortality rate

in hospital was the same. However, he gave this explanation to understand why there's so much concern about the data they're seeing.

PATRICK VALLANCE, U.K. CHIEF SCIENTIFIC ADVISER: If you took somebody in their 60s, a man in their 60s, the average risk is that for 1,000 people

who got infected, roughly 10, would be expected to unfortunately die with the virus. With the new variant for 1000 people infected, roughly 13 or 14

people might be expected to die.

ROBERTSON: And if we just take one example of one country, and there's believed to be about 50 different nations now that have had the U.K. COVID-

19 variant detected, but if we take the example of Ireland, around about Christmas, they had just a little bit less than 10 percent, 8, 9 percent,

roughly, of the U.K. variant virus detected there.

A few weeks later, that was up to the mid 40 percentage points. Irish experts scientists believing that that number would climb and the U.K.

variant in Ireland would become the dominant variant. That was Ireland's experience, if that becomes the experience of other nations, and there's no

reason to believe that it definitely will be.

But this is early data recorded and explained here in the U.K., the implications for Island and other nations as troubling as it is here. Nick

Robertson, CNN, London.


QUEST: A profitable moment it's after the break.


QUEST: All right, you're all tweeted me tonight's profitable moment, I can see that in the Netherlands. The minimum wage is 9 euros 72. In Greece, the

U.S. limit will be three and a half times more. In the UK the living wage is 8 pounds 32.

It makes my point even allowing for PPP, price parity, and all of that and economic things that there's a real battle going on, is what we're looking

at on this program considerably more.

I'm out of time. That's Quest Means Business for tonight. I'm Richard Quest in New York. Whatever you're up to in the hours ahead, I hope it's

profitable. Pamela Brown has The Lead, it's next.