Maryland Black Caucus members hoping for Hoyer-Clyburn deal in whip race

Maryland's black Democrats are in a pickle as Reps. Steny Hoyer and James Clyburn vie for the No. 2 leadership spot in the next Congress.

Geography ties them to Hoyer (Md.), a 30-year House veteran and current majority leader, while their membership in the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) aligns them with Clyburn (S.C.), a nine-term lawmaker and outgoing majority whip.

Torn between conflicting allegiances, Maryland Reps. Elijah Cummings (D) and Donna Edwards (D) have adopted a strategy: Don't take sides and pray for a deal.

"[Speaker] Nancy Pelosi is going to work out a deal with the three of them in the room that makes sure that we have a leadership table that really represents our caucus and is strong enough to keep us going," Edwards told MSNBC's Chris Matthews on Wednesday night.

When Matthews asked who should be minority whip, Edwards said, "I'm not voting on that."

The remarks echo those of Cummings earlier in the week, who also declined to pick sides in the contest.

"I'm for both of them," Cummings told Matthews on Monday. "I think that we're going to end up with a deal where they're both in leadership. Both of them bring phenomenal skills to the plate, and we need both of them."

Asked directly which Democrat should get the minority whip slot, Cummings played it safe.

"I'm not going to go into that," he said.

"When all the dust settles, both of them will be at the table."

The contest between Hoyer and Clyburn was launched last week after Pelosi announced her intent to remain Democratic leader. Since then, both lawmakers have been busy on the phones drumming up support, while Pelosi has tried — unsuccessfully so far — to negotiate a behind-the-scenes deal of musical chairs to prevent a potentially divisive caucus vote.

Informal vote counts have Hoyer up by a decisive 4-to-1 ratio, but many members remain undeclared, and Clyburn returned to South Carolina on Tuesday vowing to continue seeking supporters in anticipation of a caucus vote.

Meanwhile, the CBC officially endorsed Clyburn on Wednesday, declaring him to be "an extremely effective" majority leader who's "brought together all corners of our caucus behind a unified agenda," in the words of CBC Chairwoman Barbara Lee (D-Calif.).

Party leaders this week — rejecting calls from some Democrats to delay the leadership vote to allow the election dust to settle — scheduled the vote for next Wednesday.