Crypto Impact Unclear After Joe Biden Unseats Donald Trump as Next US President

Joe Biden’s picks to head key regulatory agencies could redefine cryptocurrency policy in the coming years. Exactly how remains an open question.

Nov 7, 2020 at 4:27 p.m. UTC
Updated Sep 14, 2021 at 10:28 a.m. UTC

Joe Biden’s picks to head key regulatory agencies could redefine cryptocurrency policy in the coming years, although it's unclear exactly how. 

The Associated Press declared on Saturday that Biden, the Democratic nominee, beat President Donald Trump, a first-term Republican, in an election that was marked by division and the continued spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. While the former vice president didn’t highlight crypto issues in his campaign, some of Biden's supporters hope he will advocate for reform on tech policies, while major companies are hoping to escape antitrust investigations.

To be sure, at press time Trump had not conceded and protracted court challenges remain a possibility given the closeness of the race and the polarized environment (though Trump's campaign has already lost several legal battles and concession is a tradition, not a requirement).

The price of bitcoin fell as the prospect of a stable transition of power disappointed holders expecting an inconclusive election – with multiple recounts – and an economy hamstrung by a lack of stimulus would hurt the U.S. dollar, according to Noelle Acheson, director of research at CoinDesk.

"With a victory declared, the ‘chaos factor’ diminishes, but the currency debasement theory still holds. Delayed but intact,” Acheson said, adding that a Biden administration together with a Republican Senate will mean easier monetary policy, which would push up the value of assets with finite supply.

At press time, the price of bitcoin (BTC) was down more than 4.5% to $14,866.11, after earlier dropping to as low as $14,612,52.

As to how a Biden administration will actually treat cryptocurrencies, little is known from Biden's record as all but one of his 40+ years as a senator from Delaware occurred prior to the publication of Satoshi Nakamoto's now-famous white paper that laid out the principles and workings of bitcoin. The nearest hint we have from his record is that close to three decades ago, Biden introduced a pair of bills that would have outlawed encryption, inadvertently spurring the development of PGP keys. 

His main impact is likely to come from who he nominates to head up the U.S.'s federal financial regulators.

The president-elect has so far kept a tight lid on who his campaign will nominate to key positions, but his top pick to run the U.S. Treasury Department is reportedly Federal Reserve Governor Lael Brainard, who is overseeing the Boston Fed’s research into a digital dollar

On the other hand, former Commodity Futures Trading Commission Chairman Gary Gensler may also be tapped to help Biden's team plan out oversight of Wall Street, The Wall Street Journal reported Friday. Gensler called blockchain technology a "change catalyst" in a 2019 CoinDesk op-ed.

“We’re not hearing many names floating around for the other positions,” Kristin Smith, executive director of the Blockchain Association, told CoinDesk last month.

There could be “a lot of change” in how the U.S. approaches cryptocurrencies under a Biden presidency, though it’s up in the air whether that is good or bad for the industry, Smith said.

“If we’re looking at the administration, I think our ideal scenario is to have someone with a strong familiarity with those positions,” she said. 

John Collins, a partner at advisory firm FS Vector, told CoinDesk last month that while crypto is likely to be a low priority for the incoming administration given the economy and other pressing issues, the space should still have room to grow.

“Things like the crypto custody guidance for banks, I don’t see that going anywhere. I wouldn’t expect a Biden [Office of the Comptroller of the Currency] to withdraw that but I also think it’ll be difficult to get some blanket acceptance of all token sales," he said. "There’s an understanding, though, that financial services is changing and the regulatory structure needs to be dynamic and change with it, and crypto and digital currencies and open payment networks are a big part of that.”

Collins also said Biden’s term is likely to see political appointees who come from the crypto sector, which have been rare so far.

Indeed, Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris's team already includes Ryan Montoya, the former chief technology officer at the Sacramento Kings, who oversaw the NBA team's use of various blockchain-related tools and platforms, according to Decrypt Media.

UPDATE (Nov. 7, 2020, 17:35 UTC): This article has been updated to note that Vice President-elect Kamala Harris's team includes former Kings CTO Ryan Montoya and adds additional comment.

UPDATE (Nov. 7, 2020, 23:38 UTC): This article has been updated to add comments by Noelle Acheson, director of research at CoinDesk, on bitcoin's price activity.

UPDATE (Nov. 8, 00:10 UTC): Added background on Gary Gensler's views on blockchain tech.

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