Elon Musk tweets support for Rex Tillerson, gets an earful

In Silicon Valley and beyond, there’s a person whose tweets are closely watched and much dissected.

So when Elon Musk tweeted that Rex Tillerson “has the potential to be an excellent Sec of State,” he got the Twittersphere all riled up on Tuesday.

Musk, chief executive of electric-car company Tesla, was agreeing with an article the Economist had tweeted out about Tillerson, who spent 40-plus years at oil giant Exxon, including the past 10 years as its CEO and chairman. Critics of Tillerson as President Donald Trump’s choice for secretary of state are concerned about his big-oil background and business ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Not surprisingly, people wanted an explanation, including former Mercury News reporter and SiliconBeat blogger Dana Hull, who’s now with Bloomberg and asked Musk to talk about why.

The past actions of Tillerson’s Exxon, though, seem to run counter to the beliefs of Musk. The oil company, accused of undermining climate-change science, is under investigation by a couple of state attorneys general and the SEC, and was recently ordered to turn over 40 years’ worth of documents about its climate-change studies. Tillerson refused to answer questions about the matter at his confirmation hearing.

So why would Musk go out of his way to publicly support Tillerson? Musk has three companies: Tesla, SolarCity and SpaceX, all of which need government support one way or another, such as through tax incentives or government contracts. Musk, who once said Trump was “not the right guy” to be president of the United States, now sits on the president’s business advisory team. He and Uber CEO Travis Kalanick were named to the team last month. Musk also was present at Trump’s forum in December in New York, one of 13 tech executives including Apple CEO Tim Cook, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and Alphabet CEO Larry Page.

No matter how different the clean-energy executive’s views might be from that of the head of the new administration, he wants a seat at the table, which is also something he mentioned about Tillerson as he tweeted follow-up responses Tuesday.

That conversation is about climate change, and Tillerson, unlike Trump, has acknowledged that climate change is real.

Last but not least, Musk and Tillerson agree on a carbon tax.

“Rex Tillerson supports a carbon tax. This is what is really needed to move the needle,” Musk tweeted after fielding many responses to his first tweet about Tillerson. As you might have guessed, the responses run the gamut. Musk is a beloved figure, but the suspicion about and the disdain for Trump and his administration abounds.

Photo: Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk speaks at a conference at the Paris Pantheon Sorbonne University as part of the United Nations Climate Change Conference on Dec. 2, 2015. (Francois Mori/AP)


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