President Biden and the White House are embracing fights with billionaires like Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos over the economy.
Biden and his aides have publicly poked at major CEOs like Bezos and Musk in recent weeks, viewing it as a potentially popular message at a time when the president is getting poor marks for his handling of the economy due mostly to rampant inflation.
One White House official argued billionaires like Musk and Bezos make for good foils at a time when the president is proposing “an economic agenda for the middle class that cuts some of the biggest costs families face,” funded in part by taxes on the rich.
Biden was asked Friday after remarks on the May jobs report if he had a response to Musk, the Tesla and SpaceX founder, who had said in a message to executives that he had a bad feeling about the direction of the economy.
The president responded by rattling off a list of other companies, including Ford and Chrysler parent company Stellantis, that were making investments in the U.S. to build electric cars in particular.
“So, you know, lots of luck on his trip to the moon,” Biden said. “I mean, you know.”
The remark was shared widely by White House aides, who viewed it as the type of off-the-cuff comment that can help the president break through to the public.
“Can’t stop laughing at this,” Jesse Lee, an economic adviser at the White House, tweeted with a video of Biden’s comment.
It also came just two weeks after the president and his team went head-to-head with Amazon founder Bezos over his criticism of the administration’s policies.
In both cases, the White House has chastised Musk and Bezos as anti-labor for their views on unions and suggested their animus toward the administration’s policies is rooted in Biden’s pledge to make billionaires pay their fair share.
Biden routinely singles out Amazon when talking about major companies that he believes do not pay enough in taxes. And the president has frequently omitted Tesla, a major producer of electric cars, when talking up efforts to invest in green energy and electric vehicles.
The effect with both men seems to be turning them away from being potential partners with the administration. Musk in particular has in recent weeks been more vocally critical of the Biden White House and suggested Democrats are out of touch with voters.
“This administration doesn’t seem to get a lot done. The Trump administration, leaving Trump aside, there were a lot of people in the administration who were effective at getting things done,” Musk said in a podcast interview last month, arguing that Biden was too beholden to labor unions.
Tesla is a major producer of electric vehicles, and Musk’s other venture, SpaceX, has partnered with NASA in its bid to land American astronauts on the moon.
Still, White House officials believe swinging at billionaires like Musk and Bezos, and more broadly large oil companies and meat conglomerates like they’ve done in the past, can be an effective messaging tool.
Biden proposed in his fiscal 2023 budget proposal, released earlier this year, a minimum 20 percent tax rate on American households worth more than $100 million.
A YouGov poll conducted in early April found 63 percent of adults in the U.S. support imposing a 20 percent tax on individuals making more than $100 million annually, while just 20 percent oppose such a tax.
An ABC News-Ipsos poll released Sunday found 37 percent of respondents approve of Biden’s handling of the economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, down from 53 percent in July.
And inflation, which was at the heart of the spat with Bezos, has been a particular point of difficulty for Biden. The ABC poll found 71 percent of respondents said they are unsatisfied with the president’s efforts to bring down costs and 72 percent were frustrated about his efforts on gas prices specifically.
Support for policies holding billionaires and major corporations accountable are one of the few economic areas where voters appear to back Biden these days, underscoring why the White House is keen to promote that message.
“As President Biden has consistently said: We’re trying to build an economy that works for American workers,” a second White House official said. “Thanks to our historic recovery, we now have a labor market that tilts toward worker power — and provides more dignity and respect in the workplace.”
Source: The Hill