Elon Musk starts beef with Biden, says president is "controlled by unions"

Musk went scorched-earth in a barnburner of an interview, blasting everyone from Biden to Bezos to the SEC

Published October 1, 2021 8:20PM (EDT)

Tesla head Elon Musk (Maja Hitij/Getty Images)
Tesla head Elon Musk (Maja Hitij/Getty Images)

Elon Musk feels a little forgotten — and wants President Joe Biden to know it. 

The eccentric billionaire and Tesla "Technoking" said as much during a barnburner of an interview at the technology industry summit "Code Conference" in Beverly Hills, Calif., this week, blasting everyone from Biden to Jeff Bezos to the financial regulators at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, who he has publicly sparred with for years.  

In particular, Musk appeared to be peeved at the fact that the Biden Administration had snubbed Tesla when organizing an electric vehicle summit at the White House in August — opting instead to invite Ford, General Motors and Stellantis, which recently formed after a merger between Fiat Chrysler and PSA Group. Perhaps most importantly, the United Auto Workers' union was also at the event — a group that shares no particular love for Musk or Tesla after the electric vehicle maker comes off a recent stretch of union-busting activity at its U.S. factories.

"(They) didn't mention Tesla once and praised GM and Ford for leading the EV revolution. Does that sound maybe a little biased?," Musk told technology journalist Kara Swisher at the conference. "Not the friendliest administration, seems to be controlled by unions."

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Musk has a long track record of anti-union statements, putting him at odds with the president, who speaks often about the need to create "good paying union jobs" in order to rebuild the American middle class. He even drew the scrutiny of the National Labor Relations Board back in 2018 after he tweeted that employees would lose their stock options if they attempted to organize, which the NLRB contends was illegal. He was later forced to delete the tweet and reinstate a Tesla union organizer that had been fired.

When asked whether Tesla was snubbed due to Musk's anti-union stances last month, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said: "Well, these are the three largest employers of the United Auto Workers, so I'll let you draw your own conclusions."

Musk has also expressed disappointment that Biden never congratulated him or his company, SpaceX, after a successful private spaceflight which raised more than $100 million for charity. 

But Musk didn't stop at Biden, using his appearance at the Code Conference to breathe fire into several ongoing beefs — including one with fellow billionaire and spaceflight hobbyist Jeff Bezos

The most recent spat between the two businessmen came about after Bezos' aeronautics company, Blue Origin, sued NASA after it handed a nearly $3 billion contract to Musk and SpaceX. 

Musk admitted to Swisher that he had "not verbally" spoken with Bezos about the budding legal battle, though he did admit to subtweeting his rival from time to time.

"You cannot sue your way to the Moon, no matter how good your lawyers are," Musk added.

In response, Amazon sent technology site The Verge a 13-page list of lawsuits and governmental petitions that SpaceX has filed — seemingly to make the argument that Musk was also attempting to sue his way to the moon. 

"Attached is a list of some of the times SpaceX has sued the U.S. government on procurement matters and protested various governmental decisions," a spokesperson for the company's satellite offshoot, Project Kuiper, wrote to The Verge. "It is difficult to reconcile their own historical record with their recent position on others filing similar actions."

Musk, who co-founded the online payment behemoth PayPal in 1999, also got a final shot in against U.S. financial regulators, who he argued should take a hands-off approach to regulating cryptocurrencies — a hot-button issue on Capitol Hill right now.

Musk, who did admit at one point that he wasn't an expert in cryptocurrencies, is nonetheless a thought leader in the space: Tesla announced in February that it would be making a billion-dollar bet on Bitcoin, accepting the popular cryptocurrency as payment for its electric vehicles. 

Since then, Musk has become a star in the budding market, sending prices soaring — or tumbling — with each of his tweets. 

Swisher asked about the phenomenon, and whether being able to cause that kind of volatility is a good thing.

"If [the price of bitcoin] goes up, I suppose it is," he said, grinning.

By Brett Bachman

Brett Bachman was the Nights/Weekend Editor at Salon.

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