Tesla and SpaceX CEO met with Donald Trump on Monday, and just a day later, he’s expressing optimism about Trump’s choice for Secretary of State, former ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson.
On the surface, you’d be forgiven for assuming that Tillerson as Secretary of State would be at odds with Musk’s worldview, given the former’s 40+ years of service at a company that produces fossil fuels as its primary business. But Musk replied to an Economics post outlining reasons Tillerson might not be such a bad choice to lead U.S. foreign policy decision-making under Trump.
Musk also replied to requests from followers to shed light on why, exactly, he would hold such a counterintuitive opinion regarding Tillerson’s selection. The Tesla founder called Tillerson “exceptionally competent,” referring specifically to his tenure at Exxon, and also praised his understanding of global politics. He added in a separate tweet that he believes Tillerson deserves “the benefit of the doubt” pending actions that would contradict that optimism.
Tillerson has supported a carbon tax previously in his role leading CEO as the most effective way to control industrial impact on climate change, but his former company is under investigation by the state of New York for potentially misleading the public regarding climate change’s effects. In the end, critics suggest Tillerson’s prior acknowledgement of climate change as a problem and proposed solutions were more about alleviating criticism levied against ExxonMobil, and less about effecting real change.
The proposed Secretary of State, who moved one step closer to becoming confirmed in his role, also has close ties to Russia, including a deal made in 2011 in which he exchanged arctic drilling rights for access to supply from Texas and Gulf of Mexico oil fields, as TIME noted in December.
Musk met with Donald Trump previously at a sit-down with tech industry leaders late last year, and also joined his Strategic and Policy Forum. In a prior Q&A with investors, he noted that Trump’s obvious bullishness on fossil fuels might not necessarily preclude potential upside for the alternative fuels sector.
Because SpaceX and Tesla also house so much of their manufacturing operation in the U.S., Musk also likely has reason to be optimistic given Trump’s vocal promotion of U.S.-based manufacturing and regulatory relaxation for companies that choose to build domestically. Still, it’s incredibly weird and at least a little troubling to see him express positive feelings about a Secretary of State pick whose career history has seemed at odds with the public corporate missions of both Tesla and SolarCity.