POLITICS
03/07/2012 06:23 pm ET Updated May 07, 2012

HUFFPOST HILL - The Senate Will Fill That Pothole, Promise

Chellie Pingree announced that she won't run for Senate, prompting distraught liberals to spike their Tazo Vanillia Rooibos Full Leaf tea with organic white corn vodka. If Newt Gingrich's southern strategy doesn't include bumper stickers featuring his name and "ah do believe ah have the vapors" we'll be very disappointed. And if you ask Mitt Romney about the cost of his enigmatic tax plan, there's a chance he might ask you to answer him these riddles three... or just ramble on about the height of trees. This is HUFFPOST HILL for Wednesday, March 7th, 2012:

HIGHWAY BILL UNDER REPAIR - A Senate source tells Mike McAuliff that leaders are closing in on an agreement on amendments to the transportation bill, which would clear the way for almost certain passage. If they finalize the amendments, NatGas will be among them, along with other amendments aimed at wrecking the planet. Greens are hoping that the amendments are controversial enough that they risk taking down the highway bill, which both sides wanna get done.

Fire up the "stratagem" metaphor machine because Newt is doubling down in the South. LA Times: "A day after losing all but one Super Tuesday contest, Newt Gingrich retreated Wednesday to the Deep South, abandoning plans to campaign in Kansas in a gamble that victories next week in Alabama and Mississippi can salvage his quest for the Republican presidential nomination. 'We clearly have limited resources, and we decided that it would make sense to focus those limited resources on Mississippi and Alabama,' the former House speaker told reporters here after a rally in a hotel atrium." [LA Times]

HuffPost Hill did not win anything at tonight's lobbyist-funded National Press Foundation thing, but we're going anyway.

JELLY ON THE BELLY - "Va. Gov. Bob McDonnell signed a controversial mandatory ultrasound bill into law Wednesday afternoon, making Virginia the seventh state to require women to have an ultrasound procedure before they can legally have an abortion. A previous version of the bill would have forced women to undergo an invasive, sometimes painful transvaginal ultrasound procedure if she was too early into the pregnancy for a more typical transabdominal one to detect fetal age. After that bill sparked widespread protests, McDonnell and House Republicans worked together to write a new bill that would allow women to opt out of the more invasive procedure in favor of an external one. 'We have taken out the state-required rape from the bill, but the way it is now is still an assault because it's an unwanted touching,' state Sen. Janet Howell (D) told HuffPost in an interview, 'and the woman is being coerced to have that happen in order to exercise her constitutional right to an abortion.'" [HuffPost's Laura Bassett]

READ MY LIPS: NO NEW... IRRESPONSIBLE FISCAL POLICIES - Running in tomorrow's Roll Call from Jonathan Strong: "Did Rep. Timothy Johnson pledge to constituents that he would never vote to raise their taxes? Americans for Tax Reform, the anti-tax group headed by Grover Norquist, lists the Illinois Republican as one of 238 House Members who have signed its Taxpayer Protection Pledge, in which lawmakers vow to 'oppose any and all efforts' to raise tax rates. But now Johnson, who faces a new, more Democratic district thanks to redistricting, said it's 'disingenuous and irresponsible' for lawmakers to make such a vow."

DAILY DELANEY DOWNER - Jennifer Sunseri of Eugene, Ore. lost her academic job back in 2009. Despite several advanced degrees, she's been unable to find full-time work and is now writing undergrads' essays part time for an online service -- in other words, she's helping kids cheat. "It's highly unethical, though completely legal," Sunseri said. "As a former professor, this is the equivalent of prostitution to me. However, I'm behind on my rent and I have not seen a doctor in three years. Moreover, I am 53, have no kids or spouse or inheritance to help me out when I can no longer work, and I've already dipped into my retirement." The crummy part is that the paper-writing gig doesn't even pay the bills. Hang in there!

Don't be bashful: Send tips/stories/photos/events/fundraisers/job movement/juicy miscellanea to huffposthill@huffingtonpost.com. Follow us on Twitter - @HuffPostHill

PINGREE DECIDES AGAINST BID - Like the city of Portland she represents, Chellie Pingree has decided to remain something that liberals totally dig but that remains under-appreciated by a wider audience (Pingree, however, does NOT have good bars and a vibrant restaurant scene -- people can't have that). "Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-Maine) will not be running for the U.S. Senate, dashing the hopes of progressives who had already been raising money for her campaign. Pingree's announcement came after former governor Angus King, an independent with strong name recognition, announced that he would be running. In an interview with The Huffington Post on Wednesday, Pingree said she was deterred by the complications of a three-way race. King, a moderate, was widely expected to siphon votes away from Pingree, potentially handing a win to Republicans. A Public Policy Polling survey released on Tuesday showed that in a head-to-head contest, Pingree would win. But when there was a three-way race, King was likely to come out ahead. Pingree said she talked to King several times, but she could not persuade him to not to run. Part of the reason Pingree decided against running is because of the lessons learned from the 2010 Maine gubernatorial race, in which a three-way contest put the office into the hands of conservative Republican Paul LePage." Greg Sargent had the scoop.

She even has a Facebook page from her fans thanking her for NOT running.

Not a totally bad day for lefty Mainers: "A new Public Policy Polling survey in Maine finds voters are likely to reverse their 2009 decision and legalize gay marriage in the state this fall: 54% think that gay marriage should be legal to only 41% who think it should be illegal. Using exact Maine ballot language proposed, 47% of voters say they'll vote to legalize gay marriage, while 32% are opposed." [Political Wire]

@InhofePress Real class - RT @RobertKennedyJr: Speaking of prostitutes, big oil's top call girl Sen Inhofe wants to kill fuel economy

ROMNEY CAMPAIGN GETS COCKY: WE WILL WIN - If acts of campaign swagger were end zone celebrations, this would be the one where everyone gets in a circle, someone throws the football in the air, and then everyone pretends to be blown away when the football hits the ground. Jon Ward: "Mitt Romney's campaign puffed out its chest Wednesday and said, without equivocation, that their candidate will win the Republican primary. 'We are going to be the Republican nominee,' a top Romney adviser said. The Romney adviser was not confident enough in the prediction, however, to put his name behind it. A handful of senior campaign officials held a briefing for reporters here at the campaign's headquarters in Boston's North End, where they focused on Romney's lead in delegates over Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich. Romney has 430 delegates to Santorum's 185 and Gingrich's 106, by the Romney campaign's count. The magic number to clinch the nomination is 1,144 delegates. Romney's campaign intentionally focused on the math portion of the primary one day after former Sen. Santorum (R-Pa.) scored victories in Oklahoma, Tennessee and North Dakota, and nearly knocked Romney off in Ohio. 'The nomination is an impossibility for Rick Santorum or Newt Gingrich,' a top aide said in the briefing, which was held on the condition that campaign officials who spoke not be identified." [HuffPost]

Rick Santorum agrees... except for the Santorum part. Jon Ward: "As election results rolled in Tuesday night at Rick Santorum's rally in Steubenville, Ohio, top adviser John Brabender told The Huffington Post that if former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) had a subpar night, he should drop out. 'If he finishes third in all the southern states except Georgia, the path is for him to move aside and let us have a one-on-one shot with Romney. That's the path,' Brabender said. That is, in fact, what happened. Gingrich won Georgia convincingly, but the state was essentially uncontested by former Sen. Santorum (R-Pa.) and Mitt Romney." [HuffPost]

Newt is getting grumpy, even by Newt standards. "When Newt Gingrich skewers the 'elite media,'' as he does almost daily, the national press most familiar with him from the campaign trail rolls its collective eyes, knowing it plays a stock villain in Mr. Gingrich's public rhetoric. But behind the scenes he is friendly and a good sport to individual reporters. Lately, though, as Mr. Gingrich's fortunes erode, his campaign's public disdain for the news media seems to be crossing over into private practice as well.... Bringing his campaign to Alabama on Wednesday...he held a surprise news conference, but only for local reporters...[Gingrich spokesman RC] Hammond, who answered questions for 10 minutes, refused to respond to one reporter, Michael Finnegan of The Los Angeles Times, telling him: 'I'm really not answering your questions until you can explain the logic of your last story. It was beyond ridiculous.'" [NYT]

MITT ROMNEY'S TAX PLAN IS ON DOUBLE SECRET PROBATION - "Mitt Romney is acknowledging that it's impossible to know how his tax plan will affect the federal budget deficit. In an interview Wednesday on CNBC, the former Massachusetts governor scoffed at outside groups who have said his plan to lower marginal tax rates would increase the deficit. Romney said he was surprised that such assertions were being made because his plan 'can't be scored.' He says he'll have to work with Congress on the details before he can estimate how much the plan will cost...Romney previously has insisted that his plan to cut marginal individual tax rates by 20 percent won't increase the deficit because he would limit deductions and exemptions for the wealthy. He hasn't outlined what those changes would be, and says he'll work with Congress." [AP/HuffPost]

Also top secret: Mitt's housing policy.

Ben Nelson wouldn't really be retiring if he didn't do something to mess with his party on the way out: "Retiring Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) will not endorse former Sen. Bob Kerrey (D-Neb.) in a Democratic primary. 'I usually don't take sides in contested primaries, so that's pretty much where I am,' he told The Hill on Tuesday. Kerrey has long been national Democrats' preferred choice, but after he initially said he wouldn't run, Nebraska Regent Chuck Hassebrook (D) entered the race. Kerrey changed his mind and jumped in after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and other Democrats, worried about losing the seat, lobbied him hard. But Hassebrook has refused to step aside and clear the way for an uncontested primary." He's retiring. [The Hill]

NEWSBUSTERS UNINTENTIONALLY HELPS LIBERALS - Newsbusters startled Washington's liberal community today when it somehow managed to spell Shaunna Thomas' name correctly in a post that existed to make the case that the post ought not to exist, we're guessing. Newsbusters: "Continuing her network's anti-Limbaugh drumbeat today, MSNBC's Tamron Hall interviewed a little-known feminist activist by the name of Shaunna Thomas of the equally unfamiliar group UltraViolet, which is campaigning to deprive Rush Limbaugh of all of his sponsors." For those curious, UltraViolet is a new women's issues group founded by Thomas, formerly with the PCCC, and MoveOn's Nita Chaudhary, which takes an aggressive, news-cycle focused approach to grassroots online organizing. [NEWSBUSTERS]

The president is not going to win Oklahoma: "President Barack Obama collected the most votes in the Oklahoma Democratic primary, but lost in 15 counties. With 98 percent of precincts reporting Tuesday, Obama won 57 percent of the vote. Four other candidates combined for 43 percent of the vote, including anti-abortion activist and Operation Rescue founder Randall Terry who received 18 percent of the vote. According to Democratic Party rules, Terry is eligible for a delegate since he won more than 15 percent of the statewide vote." [AP]

OBAMA 2012 CONTINUES TO BENEFIT FROM THE HARD WORK OF CAMPAIGN VOLUNTEER RUSH LIMBAUGH - Dipping into the Rush well really has no political downsides, and Team Obama knows it. Sam Stein: "Top Obama re-election adviser David Axelrod took a page from the neocon playbook on Wednesday, arguing that Mitt Romney's unwillingness to call out Rush Limbaugh for making incendiary remarks raised questions about whether he would be able to face the world's worst dictators if elected president....If Romney couldn't stand up to 'the most strident voices in your party how can he stand up to Ahmadinejad?' [David] Axelrod asked. 'How are you going to stand up to the challenges of the presidency? These are tests. Presidential campaigns are tests. You are tested every single days in different ways. The Limbaugh thing was a test of leadership, and you have them all the time, and Mitt Romney has failed those tests in the campaign.'" [HuffPost]

Team Romney took the bait: "One thing Mitt Romney will not do is timidly offer to sit down with Ahmadinejad with no pre-conditions, as President Obama did, and he certainly won't ignore the looming threat of a nuclear Iran, as this administration has done," said Romney Campaign spokesperson Andrea Saul. "Obama's weak policy toward Iran over the past three years has utterly failed and simply allowed Iran to get closer to obtaining a nuclear weapon." [Ibid.]

Rush Limbaugh doesn't have many friends right now, but at least the sculptor who's being paid to make a bust of him for the Missouri statehouse still has his back. Amanda Terkel: "E. Spencer Schubert, the sculptor chosen to create the Limbaugh bust, had so far remained silent on the matter. But on Wednesday, he released a statement stressing that his work is not political and he is not responsible for choosing the honorees: 'I was honored when Speaker Tilley selected me to sculpt Buck O'Neil, a shining example of humanity. I was honored when he commissioned me to sculpt Dred Scott, an icon in civil rights history. And I was honored when Tilley commissioned me for yet another sculpture in the Hall of Famous Missourians; this time, Rush Limbaugh, an entertainer who says provocative things.'" A very correct assessment of Limbaugh! [HuffPost]

BECAUSE YOU'VE READ THIS FAR - Liberal kitten transfixed by AMERICAblog.

JUST CHILL OUT - On HuffPost DC: What happens when a marketing assistant for a non-profit starts her own open-mic meditation night?

COMFORT FOOD

- Child likes the Canucks... also dancing. [http://huff.to/yebK1h]

- Beautiful paintings of actual real life vans with beautiful actual real life graffiti on them. [http://huff.to/A9sTB4]

- Dear public relations professionals: please promote your products with 8-track players more often. Thanks! [http://bit.ly/AlsKcx]

- Today's iPad keynote address in 99 seconds. [http://huff.to/AgpzhY]

- A People's History of .GIFs [http://huff.to/yRZkv8]

- The Clash's Mick Jones performing "Train in Vain" in a place you wouldn't expect The Clash's Mick Jones performing "Train in Vain." [http://bit.ly/yFLxL1]

- How to avoid getting your ass thrown in the clink, courtesy of the ACLU. [http://bit.ly/xfDOlb]

- Toddler gets aggressive Bob Dylan-themed birthday. Cool for the parents now, bad for the parents when the therapy bills start rolling in. [http://huff.to/AgpzhY]

TWITTERAMA

@LOLGOP: Did you know the human body regenerates itself every 7 years, which means Mitt's last few pro-choice cells will be alive in November.

@elise_foley: INBOX: I'm sending you an e-mail so you can tweet about it

@kyleleighton: A real email subject headline from the Gary Johnson for President campaign: "Gary Johnson Throws a Party"

ON TAP
By @christinawilkie

TONIGHT
5:30pm - 7:30pm: Free Chick-fil-A makes the annual carpet and rug lobby's party the best worst reception of 2012. [HVC 201]

6:00pm: The Guinness Congressional Perfect Pint Challenge kicks off St. Patty's Week Day festivities on the Hill. [520 N Capitol Street, NW]

6:30pm - 9:00pm: The National Press Foundation's annual dinner offers reporters and their outlets' advertisers a fun, semi-ethical chance to schmooze. Yay! [1919 Connecticut Ave., NW]

6:30pm - 9:00pm: P. Diddy and Magic Johnson reluctantly headline a Kabletown

TOMORROW
6:30pm: In case you haven't heard enough blather about "Game Change" for the past 2 years, it's being screened at the Newseum. And yes, everyone will be there. [555 Pennsylvania Ave., NW]

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