Greenbelt, Maryland, Mayor Colin Byrd announced several months ago that he would challenge longtime House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer to represent the state’s 5th Congressional District. But now he’s set his sights even higher.
Byrd, 28, said he will challenge Democratic Sen. Chris Van Hollen in next year’s primary, a decision he said was spurred by Saturday’s party-line vote by the Senate to approve President Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief plan.
“What I saw was a willingness to compromise … and that was completely unacceptable,” Byrd said Monday. “There are some things that are just non-negotiables.”
He said Van Hollen didn’t fight to include these items in the package:
• The $15 hourly minimum wage. Eight Democratic caucus members voted to remove a wage-hike amendment from Biden’s bill, though Van Hollen was not among them.
• Keep the $400 weekly unemployment benefits passed by the House.
• Stimulus checks for undocumented immigrants.
• Make the checks $2,000, and not $1,400, based on a campaign promise by Biden.
“Through all of those changes in the bill, it helped to shed light … to be mindful who represents us in the U.S. Senate,” Byrd said. “There could be good things proposed or even passed in the U.S. House of Representatives that could be completely undone by the U.S. Senate if you have the wrong people representing.”
A spokesperson for the Van Hollen campaign defended the senator’s weekend votes on the relief package, saying in a statement Monday evening that he “has secured bold relief for our state in the American Rescue Plan and will continue to focus on fighting for every Marylander.”
Byrd said he will lend his support for progressive Democrat Mckayla Wilkes, 30, to challenge Hoyer, who turns 81 in June and has been on Capitol Hill since 1981. This will be Wilkes’ second attempt to topple Hoyer, who defeated her in the June primary.
Byrd hasn’t been shy in his criticism of how federal and state officials govern. In December, he posted a letter on his Facebook page directly attacking Del. Jazz Lewis (D-District 24) of Glenarden, calling him “a total cornball brother who has no business representing Prince George’s County or Black people at all.”
Byrd confirmed Monday said he no longer works as chief of staff for Del. Julian Ivey (D-District 47A) of Cheverly.
In terms of the Senate race, Byrd said he respects Van Hollen but has a “respectful disagreement” on certain topics, such as the need to implement Medicare for All, legislation on climate change and “vocal” opposition against the Maglev high-speed train project proposed along the Baltimore-Washington Parkway.
“My commentary is nowhere near as strong as any ordinary Marylander who knows what is happening from the people who are representing them is unacceptable,” he said. “There have been times with my rhetoric I would have probably done things different. I am apologetic about that. At the same time, the people have an opportunity to elect a champion…and would do that with the upmost energy, fervor, zealousness and advocacy they deserve.”