The relationship between Elon Musk and the administration of Democratic President Joe Biden is a complex one.
For two years it was marked by strong tensions. Biden waited more than a year, after his inauguration, to utter the name Tesla, while the president’s environmental policies are in line with the mission that the manufacturer of electric vehicles has set for itself.
Musk did not like the fact that Biden presented General Motors (GM) – Get Free Report as the leading clean-vehicle manufacturer, while Tesla is the world leader, and the Detroit giant is lagging. The Tesla chief has also felt snubbed that he was not invited to events bringing together auto-sector bosses. Nor does he accept that Biden has not celebrated the exploits of his SpaceX company, which has reignited the dream of conquering space.
Biden v. Musk
Biden has repeatedly claimed that GM, under Chief Executive Mary Barra, leads the electric-vehicle revolution in the US.
“In the auto industry, Detroit is leading the world in electric vehicles. You know how critical it is?” Biden said in November 2021.
“Mary [Barra], I remember talking to you way back in January about the need for America to lead in electric vehicles. I can remember your dramatic announcement that by 2035, GM would be 100% electric. You changed the whole story, Mary. You did, Mary. You electrified the entire automotive industry. I’m serious. You led, and it matters.”
In 2022, Tesla delivered 1.31 million electric vehicles, compared with 39,096 EVs sold by GM.
So it was no surprise that Musk never missed an opportunity to criticize Biden.
“This Administration has done everything it can to sideline & ignore Tesla, even though we have made twice as many EVs as rest of US industry combined,” the techno king complained in May 2022.
The same month he attacked Biden personally: “It’s hard to tell what Biden is doing to be totally frank,” Musk said during an interview. “The real president is whoever controls the teleprompter. The path to power is the path to the teleprompter. I do feel like if somebody were to accidentally lean on the teleprompter, it’s going to be like ‘Anchorman.’”
Tesla’s chief executive was referring to the 2004 film about a news anchor who would read anything written on the teleprompter, even if it ruined their career.
Two months earlier, Musk fact-checked the State of the Union speech in real time.
According to Musk, the snubs by the White House stem from Tesla being anti-union. Biden is a great supporter of unions.
“Yeah, the public has no idea how much Tesla and SpaceX have been attacked/undermined, because we aren’t unionized (yet offer highest pay in industry!) and this administration would rather a company be dead than not unionized,” Musk repeated on May 30, 2022.
But after hearing the word Tesla first spoken in February 2022, Musk exchanged warm words with President Biden a year later. It was February 15.
A New Hiccup
“In building our EV charging network, we have to ensure that as many chargers work for as many drivers as possible,” Biden posted on Twitter on Feb. 15, the platform owned by Musk since last October. “To that end, @elonmusk will open a big part of @Tesla’s network up to all drivers.”
He then added: “That’s a big deal, and it’ll make a big difference.”
Those last words are important: The Democratic president seems to be giving credit to Musk for the possible mass adoption of electric vehicles in the US.
“Thank you,” Musk responded. “Tesla is happy to support other EVs via our Supercharger network.”
But a few months after this “reconciliation,” a new episode is likely to slow down the rapprochement. The White House invited, on May 4, CEOs of tech companies at the forefront of the development of Artificial Intelligence tools to “emphasize the importance of driving responsible, trustworthy, and ethical innovation with safeguards that mitigate risks and potential harms to individuals and our society,” according to a statement issued by the Biden administration.
The meeting was led by Vice President Kamala Harris. CEOs of Alphabet, Anthropic, Microsoft, and OpenAI were the main guests. In a short video posted on the White House website, President Biden makes an appearance in the meeting room.
“I just came by to say thanks,” the Democratic president told the room. “What you’re doing has enormous potential and enormous danger. I know you understand that. And I hope you can educate us as to what you think is most needed to protect society as well to the advancement. This is really important.”
‘I Will Survive’
However, one person was missing from the room. This was Elon Musk, who first funded OpenAI. The Techno King is also one of the first tech luminaries to warn against the dangers of AI. For many years, he has warned, without much success, that powerful and advanced AI tools were more dangerous than a nuclear weapon.
As everyone marveled last November at the progress of ChatGPT, the conversational chatbot developed by OpenAI when it was launched to the public, the tech mogul continued to call for regulation of AI technology. Given this context, it was logical that a meeting organized by the federal government with big tech around these questions would include Musk, according to social media users. This is what a Twitter user pointed out when retweeting the message from the White House.
“Another important meeting that should have included Elon Musk,” the user posted on May 5.
Musk didn’t hesitate to comment. It appears he did not take offense at the snub.
“I will survive,” he commented.
The billionaire seems to be delighted that officials are finally heeding his warnings by rushing to act.
“It’s a step in the right direction,” he said, referring to the White House meeting.
A few days ago, Musk went to Washington where he met with lawmakers, including Chuck Schumer, the Democratic leader of the Senate, to talk about AI regulation.
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.