Since purchasing Twitter Inc. for $44 billion in October, Elon Musk has gained significant control in five companies across various sectors, giving him unmatched global influence. His companies intersect with the government to varying degrees, with Tesla and SpaceX being particularly significant in supporting President Joe Biden‘s agenda. However, it is Musk’s unorthodox management of Twitter that causes the most concern for the Biden administration, with his gutting of staff and lack of content moderation allowing disinformation to flourish.
Musk’s Control over Twitter
Since taking over Twitter, Musk has abandoned content moderation, allowing disinformation to spread, including on his own account, which has nearly 132 million followers. He has also increasingly allied himself with Republicans who claim they have been censored by Big Tech and has openly endorsed Biden’s opponents.
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His unorthodox management has introduced volatility into a free-speech venue that is a human rights lifeline for those living under authoritarian regimes, such as Iran. The Federal Trade Commission plans to depose Musk himself in an investigation of the platform’s compliance with a 2011 agreement to protect user privacy. The investigation follows the agency’s interview of at least two former Twitter employees. “A shameful case of weaponization of a government agency for political purposes and suppression of the truth!” Musk posted March 7 on Twitter in response.
An empire too big for Washington?
Elon Musk’s significant influence in Washington predates his acquisition of Twitter, as evidenced by SpaceX’s major presence in US government contracting, with almost $3 billion in federal work in 2022. Despite SpaceX’s legal battles with the Air Force and Musk’s lobbying efforts, it has become a top-100 contractor.
Some officials in the Biden administration have speculated about the possibility of breaking up Musk’s conglomerate, although trust-busting has not been popular in US courts for decades. Concerns have been raised about the potential national security implications of foreign entities financing Musk’s Twitter purchase, including Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, Binance CEO Changpeng Zhao, and Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund, which has caused anxiety among national security agencies and the intelligence community. To address these concerns, some officials have considered subjecting the Twitter deal to review by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, a secretive interagency panel that has the power to block corporate transactions involving foreigners if they raise national security concerns.
Musk’s Proposals and Financial Ties
Musk has put forward two controversial proposals – one aimed at ending the war in Ukraine and the other suggesting reunification between Taiwan and China. The former is viewed as being Russia-friendly, while the latter was praised by the Chinese government publicly. Senator Mark Warner, a Virginia Democrat who chairs the Intelligence Committee, has stated that he does not believe there is another American more dependent upon the largess of the Communist Party than Elon Musk.
Within the Biden administration, some top officials fear that Musk, with his business empire, vast wealth, and political alliances, is becoming close to untouchable. Some officials express concern about Musk’s tendency to make unilateral decisions, like dictating terms to Ukraine on the use of his Starlink service, which is not typical for a US defense contractor. Also, given Tesla’s expanding presence in China and Musk’s reliance on funding from Middle Eastern investors for his Twitter acquisition, there are worries that he could be susceptible to foreign influence. One US official described Tesla as a Chinese company with an American subsidiary, and Biden himself has said that the entrepreneur’s foreign ties are “worthy of being looked at.”
Growing influence in US domestic politics
Despite stating that he reluctantly voted for Biden in the 2020 elections, Elon Musk’s public political views have shifted towards the right since the current president took office. He has expressed support for Florida Governor Ron DeSantis as a potential presidential candidate for 2024 and urged his Twitter followers to vote for Republicans in last year’s midterm elections in November. Musk has even endorsed DeSantis, describing him as a sensible and centrist figure, despite the governor’s controversial policies, such as transporting migrants from Texas to Massachusetts and banning the teaching of critical race theory in schools.
In October, Musk tweeted a proposal to end the war in Ukraine, which involved Kyiv permanently surrendering Crimea to Russia, giving up on its NATO aspirations, and agreeing to UN-supervised elections in areas occupied by Russia. Some Republican lawmakers have adopted the idea that Ukraine should make concessions to Russia to end the war and that the US and its allies should reduce support for Kyiv’s military, making it difficult for President Biden and GOP leaders like Senator Mitch McConnell to continue providing strong US military support for Ukraine’s war effort. DeSantis has also expressed a similar view, stating that Ukraine’s defense is not a vital US interest and describing the war as a territorial dispute.
While Musk’s businesses share common goals with the Biden administration, his increasing foray into politics has created a challenging dynamic. Although White House officials have met with Musk and Tesla leaders to discuss how the carmaker can help the administration achieve its climate goals, the president’s stance on labor unions has resulted in a somewhat strained relationship with Musk. Despite this, when Musk announced he would open Tesla’s charging stations to competitors, Biden responded positively on Twitter, showcasing the complexity of the relationship. However, just a day later, Tesla faced allegations of firing employees for attempting to organize a union, indicating that the tensions between the administration and Musk’s businesses may continue.
Source: BLOOMBERG EXCLUSIVE