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Elon Musk accuses Biden of ignoring Tesla, but says he would ‘do the right thing’ if invited to White House

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Joe Biden, left, and Elon Musk
Evelyn Hockstein | Reuters; Andrew Harrer | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Tesla CEO Elon Musk, in an email exchange with CNBC on Tuesday, accused President Joe Biden of ignoring his electric vehicle company in favor of paying more attention to legacy auto makers.

But he also sought to assure White House officials who are concerned that he would do or say something embarrassing if he were invited to speak at a White House event.

“They have nothing to worry about,” Musk said. “I would do the right thing.”

Musk’s comments came after CNBC contacted him regarding fresh reporting that Biden and the White House have no immediate plans to invite Musk to potential upcoming meetings with corporate leaders. The people who spoke to CNBC about how the White House regards Musk declined to be named in order to speak freely about private conversations.

“The notion of a feud is not quite right. Biden has pointedly ignored Tesla at every turn and falsely stated to the public that GM leads the electric car industry, when in fact Tesla produced over 300,000 electric vehicles last quarter and GM produced 26,” Musk said in the email.

Tesla announced in January that it produced and delivered over 300,000 vehicles globally in the fourth quarter. General Motors reported U.S. sales of 26 electric vehicles, including one Hummer pickup and 25 Bolt EV models during the fourth quarter.

GM recently announced it was extending its production halt of their Chevrolet Bolt EV until early April but it plans to resume retail sales soon. The company has said that it plans to spend $35 billion on electric and autonomous vehicles by 2025.

For the first time in his presidency, Biden in February acknowledged Tesla’s status as the nation’s largest producer of electric vehicles.

Musk and the White House have been at odds since the start of the Biden administration as the president pushes for infrastructure reform and tries to encourage vehicle companies to go green.

GM CEO Mary Barra said, standing next to Biden in January, said the company wants to invest $7 billion into Michigan to “further our EV manufacturing.” GM is headquartered in Detroit. Musk at the time responded to Barra and Biden’s comments by tweeting, “Starts with a T, Ends with an A, ESL in the middle.”

“It got to the point, hilariously, where no one in the administration was even allowed to say the word ‘Tesla’! The public outrage and media pressure about that statement forced him to admit that Tesla does in fact lead the EV industry. I wouldn’t exactly call that ‘praise,'” Musk said in the Tuesday email.

A White House spokesperson praised Tesla on Tuesday in an email to CNBC: “Tesla has done extraordinary things for electric vehicles and that’s a big part of why the whole industry now knows EVs are the future.”

The White House representative also took aim at Musk. “Tesla also benefited greatly from past EV tax credits, but unfortunately, their CEO has suggested an opposition to new EV tax credits,” the representative said.

Musk has also mocked Biden on occasion. Once he said Biden was “still sleeping,” effectively mirroring former President Donald Trump’s “Sleepy Joe” insults.

Some in the administration have privately called Musk names, such as “a–hole,” for what he has said about Biden, according to people with knowledge of the situation.

“I have nothing against Biden otherwise, apart from general concern about more deficit spending, which would apply to any president, and actively supported the Obama-Biden election,” Musk told CNBC on Tuesday.

Data from the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics shows Musk contributed just over $30,000 to the Democratic National Committee during the 2012 election cycle when former President Barack Obama and then Vice President Biden were fighting Republican candidate Mitt Romney for reelection. He also gave over $2,500 directly to Obama’s presidential campaign that cycle.

Musk did not give to Biden’s campaign when he ran for president in 2020. He voiced support for businessman and Democratic candidate Andrew Yang instead. He recently contributed to the Republican National Committee.

Musk, who also runs space exploration company SpaceX, has a net worth of over $220 billion, according to Forbes.

White House freeze out?

Biden and senior White House officials have privately signaled to their allies that they have no immediate plans to invite Musk to any upcoming meetings with senior executives, according to people familiar with the matter. These people declined to be named in order to speak freely about private conversations.

Musk has berated the president on Twitter, including as recently as late January after Biden met with General Motors CEO Mary Barra and Ford Motor CEO Jim Farley in a briefing with other corporate leaders to discuss the president’s Build Back Better initiative, which has stalled in Congress. Musk, in a tweet, called Biden a “damp sock puppet in human form.”

When asked at the time by CNBC about Musk’s absence, Brian Deese, Biden’s top economic advisor, said: “When it comes to electric vehicles, we want the United States to be the place where the electric vehicle revolution is driven. And where we gain more of the global export share and we’re creating more good jobs here in America. So that’s not not about any one individual company.”

Behind the scenes, the president and his team are aggravated with Musk’s criticism, according to more than half a dozen people familiar with the matter.

Biden’s advisors have privately pushed back against inviting Musk to future industry events, as they are concerned the outspoken executive will say something that could embarrass the president or the administration, according to a person familiar with the discussions.

When asked about this, Musk first replied with an email featuring two “roll on the floor laughing” emojis. Then he followed up by saying the White House shouldn’t worry about him doing anything outlandish.

A person close to the president told CNBC that there was a push to bring Musk to the table to discuss the president’s $1 trillion infrastructure package since the executive had founded a tunnel-digging firm called the Boring Company.

Some in the White House, including climate advisor Ali Zaid, believe only unionized car companies, such as GM and Ford, should be meeting with Biden and senior administration officials, some of these people explained.

The White House pushed back on this characterization.

“Ali Zaidi has met every automaker at least once – including Tesla, several many times. President Biden is focused on creating good union jobs across the country and believes firmly that every worker in every state must have a free and fair choice to join a union and the right to bargain collectively with their employer,” the spokesperson said.

Tesla is not unionized and Musk has taken on the United Auto Workers union through his Twitter account. The UAW endorsed Biden for president during the previous election fight.

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