The jaw-dropping talk that White House press secretary Jay Carney was angling to trade the combative press room for an even more contentious post as the United States’ top diplomat in Russia was quickly squashed.

The prospect was floated by Noah Pollak, executive director at the Emergency Committee for Israel, in a tweet last week and buried in a Daily Beast story Monday about the Russian government planning sanctions against U.S. senators. Carney, who worked in Moscow for Time magazine in the early 1990s, denied that he wanted the job.

But as we pointed out last week, it’s an inopportune time not to have a U.S. ambassador in Russia. The post has been vacant for three weeks.

Although the Carney discussion was fun while it lasted, we’re hearing that national security adviser Susan Rice would like to place a woman in Moscow.

If so, we’ve singled out some likely picks. One would be Sheila Gwaltney , the current deputy chief of mission, who was consul general in St. Petersburg from 2008 to 2011. It would be an easy transition, as she could simply stay on as ambassador.

Another possibility is Pamela Spratlen , State’s ambassador in Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan, who is a former No. 2 at the embassy in Kazakhstan and former consul general in Vladivostok, Russia.

Or there’s Rose Gottemoeller , undersecretary of state for arms control and international security. She struggled to get Republican votes for that job and was confirmed along party lines, 58 to 42, with only six Republicans voting for her. She was the main U.S. negotiator for the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), and Republicans claimed — although the State Department vehemently denies it — that she withheld information about Russia possibly violating a separate nuclear treaty.

Guess that enrollment!

Long before Web site foul-ups snarled its launch, the White House had hoped for 7 million enrollees in the Affordable Care Act’s first year. It has since adjusted expectations a bit, although a number close to that is still the goal.

Through the end of February, there were 4.2 million enrolled. On Monday, the White House said it had broken 5 million. The Obama administration is making one last push to reach a million or so more uninsured Americans before March 31, the deadline to enroll without facing a fine.

So with the big day rapidly approaching, the question for Loop fans is: How many people will enroll in Obamacare in its first year?

Yes, it’s the Loop Obamacare Enrollment Contest! Simply guess the number who will sign up by the deadline. The 10 entries closest to the actual number will get a coveted Loop T-shirt and lifetime bragging rights.

Send entries — only one prediction per person — by noon March 28 to Subject line: Obamacare. Be sure to provide your name, profession, mailing address and T-shirt size (M, L or XL), in case you’re a winner. You must also include a phone number — home, work or, preferably, cell — to be eligible.

(Obama administration and congressional employees may enter “on background.”)

Getting Lady Bird wrong

A Loop item last week reviewed “All the Way,” the new Broadway hit show about Lyndon Johnson, from the point of view of former Johnson aides, such as Doris Kearns Goodwin and Joe Califano.

They were enthusiastic, especially about the stunning performance of Bryan Cranston, last seen as meth dealer Walter White in “Breaking Bad,” who plays the former president.

But we got a call the next day from Jim Jones, former House Budget Committee chairman, ambassador to Mexico and Johnson’s last chief of staff. Jones said he had heard from friends who had told him that “the real” Lady Bird Johnson was not “portrayed as she was, that she came off as “too meek and mild.” Jones said there was a scene where Johnson dismissed her with a curse — which he said “would never happen.” (Johnson/Cranston tells her at one point to “get the hell out of here.”)

Johnson consulted the first lady and “before any major speech or any decision he would ask what did Lady Bird say or think.” Jones said “she was very good with words and had an antenna for people, and he really respected that.”

Having seen the play, we heartily agree — as does Califano — that that particular portrayal is off, way too Edith Bunker. On the other hand, the performances of the other cast members — playing Martin Luther King Jr. and fellow civil rights leaders Stokely Carmichael, James Farmer, Roger Wilkins and Fannie Lou Hamer, plus aide Walter Jenkins and Sen. Richard Russell (D-Ga.), seemed pretty accurate.

(Quick Loop Tips: 1. If you can, you must see Cranston’s performance, and the play’s run ends in just a few months. 2. The tickets are pricey, so go for the cheapest seats you can find. Even the seats farthest back are excellent.)

— With Colby Itkowitz

The blog:
intheloop. Twitter:@InTheLoopWP