President Donald Trump hailed Elon Musk as "one of our great geniuses" and suggested that the CEO of Tesla and SpaceX is in the pantheon of brilliant inventors a la Thomas Edison.
The president expressed amazement at the accomplishments of rocket-maker SpaceX, in particular, which is aiming to send a crew of astronauts for the first time to the International Space Station this year.
“You have to give him credit. I spoke to him very recently, and he’s also doing the rockets. He likes rockets. And he does good at rockets, too, by the way. I never saw where the engines come down with no wings, no anything, and they’re landing. I said I’ve never seen that before,” Trump told CNBC on Wednesday.
He also mentioned Musk in the same vein as Edison, who was famously a rival of Tesla’s namesake, inventor Nikola Tesla.
“We have to protect Thomas Edison and we have to protect all of these people that came up with originally the light bulb and the wheel and all of these things. And he’s one of our very smart people and we want to cherish those people,” Trump said. "He's done a very good job."
Trump also seemed to be aware of Musk’s entanglement in 2018 with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, which had briefly sought to bar the CEO from leading a publicly traded company after he spuriously claimed on Twitter that he had “funding secured” to take Tesla private. Musk later agreed to a settlement with the SEC in which he agreed to social media restrictions and stepped down as chairman but was allowed to continue as CEO.
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Trump said "I was worried about him" at one point.
“You go back a year and they were talking about the end of the company. And now all of a sudden they’re talking about these great things,” Trump said.
He also said Musk "has to" build a "very big plant" in the U.S. because "we help him, so he has to help us." Tesla has benefited from consumer tax credits for electric vehicles.
A Tesla spokesperson was not immediately available to comment Wednesday.
Musk briefly served on one of Trump’s business councils in early 2017 before resigning after the president announced plans to withdraw the U.S. from a global climate accord.
Musk has tweeted that he’s supporting Democratic entrepreneur Andrew Yang for president.
Follow USA TODAY reporter Nathan Bomey on Twitter @NathanBomey.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Donald Trump: Elon Musk is 'one of our great geniuses' like Edison