Interview: Rep. Wiley Nickel Sees ‘Big Impact’ Ahead With Digital Assets

With his first year in Congress complete and his last year ahead (he’s running for Senate in 2026), Rep. Wiley Nickel (D, NC) has been a consistent supporter of potentially transformative bills from the House Financial Services (HFS) Committee, which he joined at the beginning of the 118th Congress.

The digital asset market structure bill known as “Financial Innovation and Technology for the 21st Century Act” [H.R. 4763], included early support from Rep. Nickel where he eventually voted with five Democrats and all of the Committee’s Republicans to support the bill during a July HFS markup.

In another July HFS markup, Rep. Nickel was one of 5 Democrats – along with  the majority Republicans – who supported a long-awaited stablecoin bill, “Clarity for Payment Stablecoins Act of 2023” [H.R. 4766]. Both bills now move to the House Floor for a vote.

Rep. Nickel spoke with blockchain tipsheet in Washington D.C. this week to discuss Congress and digital assets including:

    • Learnings during his first year
    • The Bitcoin ETFs and regulators
    • Partisanship and the Democratic Party
    • Anti-Money Laundering
    • His constituency and digital assets
    • Stablecoin and market structure bills
    • The importance of Congressional staff
    • 2026 Senate run, his platform and digital assets

The interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

blockchain tipsheet: What’s surprised you the most in your first year of Congress?

Rep. Wiley Nickel: It’s been a great first year in Congress. The surprise for me has just been how much I like the people I serve with – the absolutely amazing people that you don’t really hear about. They’re not the people on the far left or the far right. They are people who care about their country, they are working hard – in my experience – behind the scenes and it’s very different from what the public sees. I think there are a lot of people that that are very serious about trying to work together. And I think the Financial Services Committee is one of the few committees that’s really going to move some good bipartisan bills through the House and signed into law.

Any learnings from your experience on the House Financial Services Committee thus far?

I’ve certainly spent a lot of time trying to understand digital asset issues.

We’ve had industry CEOs come to the offices, policy briefings – we’re trying to learn as much as we can because we want to stay ahead of the curve and do the things we need to do to encourage innovation, and make sure we keep it here in the US.

Most recently, Bitcoin spot market ETF applications were approved by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).  Thoughts?

It’s a big deal.

I’ve been someone who has been an advocate for having the SEC do this, going back to the beginning of last year. So, we’re very encouraged to see that the SEC is finally moving in the right direction. I’m hopeful we’ll see more positive movement there. But it’s definitely a big deal. It shows that we’ve got an industry that we need to keep here in the US.

Separately, you made strong statements around the SEC X account hack. In general, how are you thinking about regulators today?

I think we’ve publicly and privately shared my concerns with the SEC and their continued regulation by enforcement. I don’t think that’s the right approach to take for digital assets in general. We’ve certainly been frustrated.

The ETF is a good move in the right direction. But this hack of their X account was just mind blowing to me. I read that Twitter said the SEC didn’t have two-factor authentication. That’s a pretty big deal if it’s true.

What drew you into the blockchain technology world and digital assets?

I think one of my frustrations with Congress is you have a lot of older members here who are set in their ways – and therefore, you don’t see Congress responding to new technology quickly. This is an area where I think you need to have people who are focused on ushering in the next great innovation for our country and digital assets.

The potential for the blockchain is just immense and I look for “lanes” where we can get things done. Financial Services is one of the few committees that’s really operating in a more bipartisan way. It’s not like Oversight or Judiciary which are partisan food fights everyday.

Our chairman (Patrick McHenry, R) from my state of North Carolina is not running for re-election -he’s just focused on moving bills that can get support from Democrats so that they can get through the Senate and signed by the White House. Otherwise, it’s just a waste of time. So, we’ve got the right focus on the Committee with a lot of these issues.

I can tell you – from the digital assets market structure and stablecoin bills – we worked on them in a bipartisan way and when I had concerns and needed to change the bill to get more Democratic support, Chair McHenry and his staff were very accommodating. And I think they will continue to be as we move those two signature bills onto the House Floor and get them through the House. And that’s what you have to do if you want to get things done in Congress.

On the partisan reputation that digital assets has in Congress today. Would you dispute that characterization? What do you think?

Yeah, I think FTX has colored the issue in a big way. You just need to educate people on the issue. The bill that we moved through Financial Services – the digital assets market structure bill – it’s a good bill that provides regulation. Democrats, we’re the party of regulation. We want to have investor and consumer protections. We want to regulate.

So, whether you love crypto or hate it, you should want regulation to protect our constituents from getting totally screwed – especially if their assets are with a company in the Bahamas where we have no ability to protect those consumers. If we educate people, you’re gonna see a lot more support for the issue.

The question for me has always been how do we avoid another FTX? Regulating the industry does just that. I think there’s a good group of Democrats who are behind it and as we educate more people on this issue, I think you’re gonna see pretty good bipartisan support when we finally move the digital assets market structure bill through through the House in the coming months.

What would you say to critics of the digital asset market structure bill regarding it being an industry bill?

The question is whether the industry is going to exist in the US and move overseas. If it moves overseas, we don’t have consumer protection.

There’s nothing that gives me any concern with the bill. It is a very basic regulatory framework that provides rules of the road and consumer protections. You don’t see any partisan poison pills. It’s a good bipartisan attempt at regulating an industry. Right now, we’re relying on laws that were written 100 years ago. And with this new technology, we can’t rely on the Howey Test that was made before people even had computers.

In general, would you say that digital assets has an anti-money laundering problem? If so, how do you think about fixing it?

Number one: we’ve got a “good actors and bad actors” problem. What I want to do is bring bad actors like Tether and Binance into compliance with our laws. I think that’s important.

I was part of a bipartisan letter (see it) with over 50 of my colleagues asking Treasury to outline the extent of the problem. We need to continue to learn more about the issue here. But, just burying our heads in the sand and doing nothing isn’t going to fix it. The role Congress needs to play is to put guidelines in place and making sure that we go after the bad actors instead of just focusing on the folks here in the US who are legitimately trying to be compliant – they need that regulatory certainty and rules of the road.

In the Senate, it appears Senator Elizabeth Warren (D, MA) with her Digital Asset Anti-Money Laundering (AML) Act and Senator Jack Reed (D, RI) with his CANSEE Act – to name a couple – are thinking hard about AML in digital assets. It speaks to a skepticism in the Democratic Party and among some members, no? How would you say the Democratic Party thinks about digital assets? It appears there’s a split.

I think a lot of it is more “generational.” Folks who are younger understand the need for the technology and how easy it is to move operations overseas. So, I think [generational] is part of it. But, it comes down to just educating people on what our [House] policy proposals actually do – our regulation provides more consumer protection. By the time we get to it, we’re going to have some legislation in place that can receive broad, bipartisan support. We may not get all the Democrats, but we need to get a bill through the House that has a chance to get through the Senate.

This is a special year in terms of a general election ahead. Does that present an impediment to moving digital assets legislation – can you feel that friction?

Yes, but it was the same at the beginning of last year. There’s always gonna be politics in Congress whether you’re close to an election or a few years out. Our job is to just get things done. And, there are plenty of folks willing to work in a bipartisan way on this issue. So that’s what I focus on – doing the things behind the scenes to get support for legislation and approve it in a way that allows it to make it through both chambers.

Thinking about the people you represent, does digital assets matter to your constituency?

The folks that I represent in and around the Research Triangle know that this technology is here to stay and it’s gonna have a big impact on everyone in the future.

So, I think we need to stay ahead of the curve and make sure we give people options to do what they want to do with their money. And that’s what we do in Congress.

We’re talking about giving more people access to making their own decisions, helping people who are unbanked and giving folks more options. I think that’s why this matters. Folks in a district like mine want to have those protections too – from what we saw with FTX – we have to do the things that prevent it so folks don’t get harmed here in the US.

You’ve announced that you’ll be retiring after your first term and suggested that perhaps a Senate race is in your plans. Can you talk a little bit to why you’ve made that decision?

I hate to use the word “retiring.” I’m just not running in a Republican gerrymandered district. I won in our “+2”, slightly Republican district. In the last election, we had a fair fight. But, the Republicans in our legislature carved up our state in an absolutely horrible way that take the real choice out of our election. My district, at least part of the one that I currently represent, went from an R+2 to R+18, which is just absolutely unwinnable for Democrats.

So I’m not quitting or giving up. I’m just focusing on a different race, two years out, which is our US Senate seat in 2026.

I certainly would run again for Congress if we had been given a fair fight, a fair district. But, the problem with partisan gerrymandering is it takes the real choice out of elections. One of the biggest problems in Washington, too, is what you see with gerrymandering. You only have 10% of the seats in Congress in the House that are truly competitive. The other 90% really don’t care about voters in November. They just need to win their Democrat or Republican primary and they’re essentially guaranteed an election. Fixing gerrymandering will fix so much else in Washington and we’ll be able to have much more responsive members of Congress when we talk about so many of these issues – like digital assets and all the way down the list of issues that folks care about. That’s what I’m going to continue pushing and fighting for – the end of partisan gerrymandering – because it really is causing a ton of problems here in Washington.

Regarding congressional staff, can you talk a little bit about the importance to a member of staff -especially as it relates to digital assets legislation?

Staff play a very important role in Congress. They’re the gatekeepers for Members on a lot of issues and work real hard on the legislation – certainly at the policy level and getting into the very specific details. Having a good team around you is really important. But, for folks who were trying to influence legislation, I think it’s important that they make their voice heard, try to reach out to the Members but if they can’t meet a Member of Congress, the should use that opportunity to talk to their staff and make a case for the issues they care about.

Specifically on the stablecoin bill, there appears to be disagreement on, generally speaking, states rights versus federal rights. Do you think that disagreement can be resolved within the House Financial Services Committee? -let alone in Congress?

I think if you step back from the rhetoric, the different sides of this issue were very close last year -and they were close the year before, too. So, just making some tweaks to ensure a strong federal floor is going to be the thing that gets much more support. I think we’re very close on this issue.

For folks like me in North Carolina, we want to protect our state regulators and protect our consumers. But, getting a good stablecoin bill is important. There’s a national security case for getting stablecoin legislation so we can continue to have a strong US dollar.

The dominance of the digital dollar is something people want to be talking about too.

On that note, how are you thinking about CBDCs (central bank digital currencies)?

I’m the co-sponsor of Jake Auchincloss’s (D, MA) bill with Rep. French Hill (R, AR), “The Power of the Mint Act” [H.R. 3402]. Only Congress should have the power to authorize a central bank digital currency. And it’s absolutely tied into making sure that we support the dominance of the Dollar.

Looking ahead, when you run for the Senate, do you envision digital assets being included in your platform?

I think it’s an issue we’re going to continue to talk. I’ve been a leader here on the issue in Congress.

What I care about is that Congress is responsive for new technology. And this is an issue where we need to be responsive, we need to stay ahead of the curve and continue to support innovators, keep industry in the US and protect consumers and by moving legislation to do that.

What does upset me is when we do nothing, deliberately – and that doesn’t help anyone. That’s why I think it matters to have legislators here in Washington who are focused on solving problems. And we got a lot of work to do. And I’m hopeful we’re going to make some good progress in the next few months here in Congress.