When he attended a meeting with 11 other CEOs and Donald Trump this week, it soon became clear to Elon Musk that he was the odd man out, at least on one key issue.
Even so, the Tesla Motors and SpaceX CEO pressed his case for the introduction of a carbon tax. And he claims that didn’t necessarily mean getting on the president’s bad side.
“This is something we need to strive for and the more voices of reason that the president hears, the better,” Musk later told Gizmodo. “Simply attacking him will achieve nothing. Are you aware of a single case where Trump bowed to protests or media attacks? Better that there are open channels of communication.”
Musk got little-to-no support for his carbon tax suggestion from other CEOs at the manufacturing summit on Monday, a senior White House official told Bloomberg. The meeting was also attended by the heads of Dow Chemical, Ford, Johnson & Johnson and Lockheed Martin, among others.
Trump hasn’t shied from criticizing or even threatening CEOs via his Twitter account when they’ve disagreed with his policy stance. Then again, as Monday’s meeting confirmed, he’s also showed a continuing openness to meet with CEOs face-to-face to talk business and perhaps find some common ground.
Apple CEO Tim Cook also has vocally advocated keeping the lines of communication open, despite facing criticism from some in Silicon Valley for attending a meeting with Trump and other tech leaders in New York last month. “Personally, I’ve never found being on the sideline a successful place to be,” Cook wrote to Apple employees.
Musk’s surprise decision this week to back Trump’s choice of Rex Tillerson for Secretary of State was partly based on the former Exxon CEO having the president’s ear. The Economist had just sent a message on Twitter claiming Tillerson “has the integrity to talk to his boss.” Musk weighed in with: “This may sound surprising coming from me, but I agree with the Economist. Rex Tillerson has the potential to be an excellent Sec. of State.”
Tillerson has previously supported the idea of a revenue-neutral carbon tax, where any money raised by the government would be returned to tax payers, possibly through electricity-bill discounts. To be sure, Exxon also has opposed some state-based carbon tax proposals during his rein.
Musk said Tillerson should be respected for doing a competent job advancing the case of the world’s biggest listed oil company. “In the Secretary of State role, he is obligated to advance the cause of the U.S. and I suspect he probably will,” Musk explained. “Also, he has publicly acknowledged for years that a carbon tax could make sense. There is no better person to push for that to become a reality than Tillerson.”