Before Friday, the House speaker fight looked like it could be another blow to the beleaguered cryptocurrency lobby, slowing down industry-backed legislation from reaching the floor.
Then came Rep. Tom Emmer.
The Minnesota Republican, who late last week became the leading contender to be House speaker, has been Capitol Hill’s top crypto advocate for years, championing the industry well before most members of Congress took it seriously. House Republicans will hold an election for Emmer and other speaker candidates Tuesday morning.
Emmer’s candidacy has opened the door to an unexpected win for crypto. It’s giving lobbyists a new reason to be hopeful amid a challenging political moment for the industry, which is being buffeted by daily headlines fromthe fraud trial of FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried and growing Washington scrutiny of the role digital currency may have played in financing Hamas.
Emmer “is the quintessential champion” of crypto, said Cody Carbone, vice president of policy at the Chamber of Digital Commerce. “He has been the face of the industry in Washington.”
The former ice hockey player and coach is a bit of an unlikely crypto hero. But he has taken a lead role on the issue for much of his time in Congress, serving as co-chair of the Congressional Blockchain Caucus and introducing several digital currency bills. He has been a fierce critic of the Securities and Exchange Commission’s crypto crackdown and has led work on legislation to block the Federal Reserve from launching its own digital dollar. House Financial Services Chair Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.), currently serving as acting speaker pro tempore, has called Emmer “an OG” of the digital asset space.
Emmer has tried to fend off tougher federal intervention in crypto, arguing that digital assets being developed outside the traditional banking industry – and inside the U.S. – are a boon to free markets and privacy. He said in an interview last month that “the majority of the bad guys today are in cash” and that crypto represents “the next iteration of the Internet.”
“You don’t have to be pro-crypto,” Emmer said. “But don’t be anti-American.”
Emmer raised the second-most crypto cash of any member of the House in the 2022 election cycle, according to the campaign finance nonprofit OpenSecrets.
“Emmer brings a fresh perspective, a lot of energy with his personality,” said Ron Hammond, the director of government relations at the Blockchain Association, a crypto trade group. “For the industry, it’s a great thing to have someone who understands these technologies.”
An Emmer speakership would be a potential breakthrough in the crypto lobby’s long quest for legitimacy. It would hand the House’s loudest megaphone to a crypto ally at a moment when skeptics are driving the conversation around potential risks that digital assets pose to consumers and national security.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) last week rallied 104 other lawmakers to urge the Biden administration to target crypto money laundering in the wake of the Hamas attacks in Israel. She is pushing Congress to pass a bill that would ratchet up financial crime safeguards in digital currency trading.
“We need a countering voice to the White House and Elizabeth Warren,” Carbone said. “Having a speaker who’s willing to stick his neck out and support the industry and use his bully pulpit and his platform to advocate for us, I think that brings the debate to a more even playing field. And we’ve been missing that for so long.”
Crypto advocates also hope it would help ensure the House takes up digital asset legislation once the floor reopens.
“We are at the culmination of years of work that he has been about,” McHenry said when the House Financial Services Committee voted on crypto bills in July.
Declan Harty contributed reporting.