Colin A. Byrd, the 28-year-old mayor of Greenbelt who announced in December that he was going to challenge U.S. House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer in the 2022 Democratic primary, said Monday he is abandoning that effort and would seek to challenge U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D) next year instead.
Byrd said he decided to set his sights on Van Hollen because he was outraged by the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package that emerged from the Senate over the weekend. Unlike the House version of the legislation, which passed in February, the Senate measure reduced recipients’ weekly unemployment benefits and did not include an increase in the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour.
Byrd said he has also been disappointed in Van Hollen’s unwillingness to publicly oppose the proposed Maglev high-speed train between Baltimore and Washington, D.C., and with Van Hollen’s vote in favor of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada free trade agreement that former President Trump negotiated. He noted that many Democratic members of Congress opposed the deal because of its impact on climate change.
Byrd also said that as he watched the debate over the stimulus package unfold, he came to the conclusion that Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is the only true progressive in the upper chamber.
“While there’s a ‘squad’ in the House, there’s a squad of one in the U.S. Senate,” he said, referring to the nickname given to young progressive members of the House. “What happened with the [stimulus] bill in the Senate was really unacceptable.”
Earlier in the day, in a virtual press conference with Maryland’s other U.S. senator, Benjamin L. Cardin (D), Van Hollen expressed disappointment with the minimum wage provision being cut out of the legislation, and with the smaller unemployment benefits. In an email Monday evening, a Van Hollen campaign spokesperson said, “Senator Van Hollen has secured bold relief for our state in the American Rescue Plan and will continue to focus on fighting for every Marylander.”
Van Hollen reported more than $1.3 million in his campaign account as of Dec. 31, but Byrd said he is not fazed by the fundraising gap.
“It’ll be a challenge, but it’ll be a challenge that we meet and exceed,” he said.
By exiting the 5th District House race, Byrd is avoiding a collision with another progressive Democrat, Mckayala Wilkes, who challenged Hoyer in 2020 and is trying again. Wilkes took 26.7% of the vote in the primary last time, but is hoping to attract more support as young progressives across the country prosper in other congressional races against established Democratic incumbents.
Byrd said he is enthusiastically backing Wilkes.
“We’ll get a progressive win in the House and a progressive win in the Senate,” he said.