Alice Ollstein

Alice Ollstein is a reporter at Talking Points Memo, covering national politics. She graduated from Oberlin College in 2010 and has been reporting in DC ever since, covering the Supreme Court, Congress and national elections for TV, radio, print, and online outlets. Her work has aired on Free Speech Radio News, All Things Considered, Channel News Asia, and Telesur, and her writing has been published by The Atlantic, La Opinión, and The Hill Rag. She was elected in 2016 as an at-large board member of the DC Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Alice grew up in Santa Monica, California and began working for local newspapers in her early teens.

Articles by Alice

Three low-income Arkansans currently enrolled in Medicaid sued the Trump administration last week over its approval of strict work requirements for enrollees in the state, rules they say threaten to kick them and thousands of others off their coverage. The legal arguments in the case are very similar to the one that successfully struck down Kentucky’s Medicaid work requirement in June, essentially saying that Trump’s HHS violated both the Medicaid statute and the Constitution in approving the rules without taking into account the harm they could cause. In Arkansas, the only state so far to actually implement a work requirement, that harm is imminent. Thousands of people could lose their insurance this summer after failing to navigate the new online-only system for filing their work hours.

But these lawsuits are not stopping or slowing down the Trump administration’s crusade for Medicaid restrictions. Politico reports that HHS is on the brink of approving work requirements in at least three more states — Arizona, Wisconsin and Maine — and is prepared to allow Wisconsin, for the first time, to ask Medicaid beneficiaries if they use drugs or are in recovery. Gov. Scott Walker (R) originally wanted to go further, and asked HHS for permission to implement mandatory tests for any Medicaid applicant who flagged a history of drug use and deny coverage to those who refused the test or refused to enter treatment if they tested positive. Legal experts told TPM this would be blatantly unconstitutional.

Yet the Trump administration is also taking some steps to shore up the ACA.

HHS approved New Jersey’s plan to implement a statewide individual mandate and reinsurance program to help stabilize the ACA market and bring down insurance premiums — steps intended to repair the damage done by Congress’ repeal of the national individual mandate and the Trump administration’s repeated blows to the ACA. HHS also announced a grant of $8.6 million to help states strengthen their ACA markets.

Meanwhile, health care is set to play a major role in this November’s midterm elections. Across the country, vulnerable red and purple state Democrats are campaigning on protecting people with preexisting conditions, and are attacking their Republican challengers for supporting a lawsuit that would gut the ACA’s coverage guarantee.

Sens. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Bill Nelson (D-FL) and Joe Donnelly (D-IN) are all running aggressively on health care, and polling indicates it’s a winning issue for them.

And just a month before the midterms, the lawsuit by GOP attorneys general — including Manchin and McCaskill’s challengers for the Senate — that seeks to strike down the ACA will be up before a federal court in Texas. Casting aside the oath to uphold and defend the federal laws on the books, the Trump administration is siding with the GOP states in the case, and will argue for gutting the ACA’s protections for preexisting conditions on Sept. 5. To do so so close to the election is not a great look, and Democrats will certainly make hay of it.

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ALEXANDRIA, VA — The jury in the Paul Manafort bank and tax fraud trial ended the week without a verdict. They will continue deliberations at 9:30 a.m. ET Monday.

The jury asked to be dismissed a bit early on Friday, at 5 p.m. ET, because one of the jurors had an event later in the evening. Judge T.S. Ellis granted the jury’s request, noting with a smile that he was letting them out 5 minutes ahead of their proposed time.

Ellis instructed the jury not to discuss the case with anyone or “undertake any investigation” on their own.

“Put the case out of your minds until Monday,” he told the jury.

The jury has so far spent two days deliberating in the case. Late Thursday afternoon, the jury asked the court for clarification on several issues related to the charges Manafort faces. The questions related to the requirements to file FBAR reports; a definition of “shelf” companies; clarification of the term reasonable doubt; and whether the exhibit list could be linked up to reflect counts Manafort faces.

Manafort has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

Kevin Downing, a defense attorney for Manafort, responded to those questions favorably on Thursday.

“They’re great questions,” he told TPM. He said they showed the jury was working through the “complicated” issues in the case.

President Trump weighed in on the trial against his former campaign chairman Friday before leaving the White House.

I think the whole Manafort trial is very sad,” Trump told reporters. “When you look at what’s going on there, I think it’s a very sad day for our country. He worked for me for a very short period of time. And you know what? He happens to be a very good person. I think it’s very sad what they’ve done to Paul Manafort.”

Outside the courtroom, Downing told reporters that Manafort’s team “really appreciates the support of President Trump.”

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ALEXANDRIA, VA — The judge presiding over the federal bank and tax fraud case against Paul Manafort on Friday declined to release the names of the jurors serving in the trial.

Judge T.S. Ellis cited threats jurors have received over the course of the trial, which begun about three weeks ago.

“I don’t feel right” about releasing the names, Ellis said.

Ellis was responding to a lawyer representing several media organizations that are seeking to unseal records in the case — including the identities of the jurors, transcripts of bench conferences between lawyers and the judge and a third category that is under seal because it relates to an ongoing investigation. Ellis did not specify the nature of the investigation.

Matthew Kelley, the lawyer representing the news organizations, argued in a hearing on the sealed records that there should be a presumption of openness when it comes to the names of the jurors. Kelley said there had not been any specific threats against the jurors, to which Ellis shot back, “I can tell you there have.”

Ellis added that he has also received threats, and is traveling with a U.S. marshall out of fear for his personal safety.

While the judge expressed sympathy with the media organizations’ desire for records to be available to the public, Ellis said if the court releases the names of the jurors, it could preclude people from participating in future “cases with notoriety.”

Manafort was in the courtroom during the hearing.

The jury continued to deliberate for a second day Friday. Late Thursday, the jury sought clarification on several issues related to the charges against Manafort.

Manafort has pleaded not guilty to all charges.


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The federal judge in Virginia overseeing the trial of former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort signaled Friday that he is amenable to unsealing some of the records in the case that media organizations are seeking.

U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis said his intention is eventually to unseal everything except for a few names and medical details.

“I made it clear at the time that these matters would not be permanently under seal. I don’t do things to keep from being scrutinized and criticized,” Ellis said.

Ellis said he will hold a hearing on the matter Friday afternoon. Media organizations were seeking to intervene in the case to obtain access to the sealed records.

“I’m no stranger to criticism. But this case has brought it to a new level,” Ellis added, drawing laughter in the courtroom.

The motion by new organizations:

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Two days after President Trump and senior adviser Kellyanne Conway confirmed the administration’s unprecedented practice of making White House staffers sign non-disclosure agreements, former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski told reporters that he doubts such agreements for federal employees could hold up in court.

“I just don’t know if they’re valid whatsoever,” he said, adding the caveat that he is not an attorney himself. “Other than the disclosure of classified information, which is a crime in and of itself, I don’t know how you hold a public employee, a government employee, accountable to a non-disclosure agreement. I don’t know how that’s enforceable whatsoever.”

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Three low-income Arkansans with pre-existing health conditions sued the Trump administration on Tuesday for giving their state the go-ahead to impose strict monthly work requirements on Medicaid and restrict the number of months for which the program will retroactively cover the health expenses of new enrollees. More plaintiffs may join the case in the months to come.

The lawsuit argues that the administration’s decision was arbitrary and capricious, violates the Constitution’s “take care” clause, and breaks with the original purpose of Medicaid by putting thousands of residents at risk of losing their insurance coverage.

Nationwide and in Arkansas, the vast majority of Medicaid recipients already work, and most non-working recipients are not able to work, either because of an illness or disability or the scarcity of jobs in their area. Yet the promotion of the rules has been a top priority of the Trump administration, despite data showing that similar requirements in other federal benefits programs failed to increase employment.

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Last week, HHS Secretary Alex Azar gave a speech at the conference of the conservative policy and lobbying powerhouse ALEC in which he bashed the Affordable Care Act as a “broken law” with “inherent instability.”

Azar called the individual insurance market “the market where Obamacare has done the most damage,” and said that because of the ACA’s regulations “we ended up with the unaffordable insurance market we have today.”

Azar did not acknowledge, however, that most of that “damage” is the result of the Trump administration’s policies, including the repeal of the individual mandate, the sabotage of the 2017 open enrollment period, and most recently, the introduction of skimpy, short-term, off-market insurance plans designed to draw younger and healthier people out of the regulated market.

But as Azar and other Trump administration officials aggressively push these “short-term” plans — which can be renewed for up to 3 years, can reject people with pre-exisiting conditions, and can refuse to cover basic services and medicines — state governments are pushing back against their sale.

A growing list of states, including California, Pennsylvania, Hawaii, Maryland, and Washington State either already have or are working to implement laws either strictly regulating the short-term insurance plans or banning them altogether, warning that they are a completely inadequate substitute for health insurance and will drive up premiums in the individual market.

Relatedly, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam recently vetoed bills passed by his GOP legislature that would have expanded the use of short-term plans, and his administration announced that the just-approved expansion of Medicaid in the state is expected to bring down insurance premiums significantly — because tens of thousands of people who were getting individual market subsidies will now be covered by Medicaid.

In a perfect trifecta of the Trump administration’s war on public assistance, hostility towards unions and a predilection for health care meddling, HHS has proposed a rule banning home health aids serving people on Medicaid from automatically paying union dues. Nearly half a million unionized workers help low-income elderly and disabled patients, and the new rule would make it more difficult for them to organize for better pay and working conditions.

And as we draw closer to the midterm elections, in which control of the House and possibly the Senate hangs in the balance, Democrats are recognizing that health care is a major strength for them, and are teeing up personalized health care-related attacks on Republican candidates.

For example, Democrats in Florida are going after Senate hopeful Gov. Rick Scott (R) for his pre-politics career as a hospital executive whose company was fined hundreds of millions for defrauding Medicare and Medicaid, and for his refusal to expand Medicaid while in office.

“If Scott has an Achilles heel, it’s health care,” a Florida Democratic strategist told TPM.

Similar strategies are playing out in other close midterm contests. Attorneys General Josh Hawley and Patrick Morrisey, who are running for Senate in Missouri and West Virginia respectively, are coming under attack for signing onto a lawsuit attempting to gut the ACA.

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Despite predictions of a “blue wave” in this November’s midterm elections, Democrats face a brutal Senate map, and have to fight to hold onto control of 10 seats in states that voted for President Trump. One of the closest and likely one of the most expensive races is going down in Florida, where Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), who has represented the state since 2001, is facing the toughest challenge of his career from Gov. Rick Scott (R), a close Trump ally.

“This is really a clash of the titans,” Republican political strategist Rick Wilson told TPM. “They both have run multiple statewide races and they’re good at it.”

The latest Mason-Dixon poll of likely voters showed a tight race, with Scott slightly in the lead and with 9 percent of voters undecided. Over the past few months, despite Republicans’ poor performance on a generic ballot nationwide, Mason-Dixon found that Scott has climbed in the polls while Nelson has “remained static” — numbers reflected in other public polling.

National Democrats acknowledge the state is going to be a huge money drain for them, but say they’re confident Scott can be defeated.

“Look at Rick Scott’s past electoral performance,” David Bergstein, the national press secretary of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC), told TPM. “In Republicans’ two best cycles in modern political history, in 2010 and 2014, Scott dramatically outspent his opponents and never won by more than a point. He barely eked out victories in favorable years, and this is not a favorable year for him.”

Scott has been pouring what Wilson dubs “an assload of money” into his campaign, buying gobs of airtime in the expensive state. The Democratic-aligned Senate Majority PAC has swooped in to help Nelson with a massive TV buy set to begin after Labor Day, a $23 million investment on top of the $2.2 million the PAC already spent earlier this year. That’s nearly a third of its total ad budget for the campaign cycle just for Nelson, a sign of the supreme importance the group is putting on holding this seat.

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Four cities filed a lawsuit on Thursday accusing the Trump administration of violating the “Take Care” clause of the Constitution and the Administrative Procedure Act by chipping away at the Affordable Care Act in ways that have depressed health insurance enrollment and driven up costs for both individuals and taxpayers.

The complaint from the cities of Columbus, Baltimore, Cincinnati, and Chicago charges President Trump with the “premeditated destruction” of parts of the ACA. They are suing to force the administration to restore the funding that was slashed for outreach and enrollment assistance, extend the 2019 open enrollment period, and steer people towards comprehensive ACA plans and away from skimpy short-term plans that do not cover pre-existing conditions.

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As the Trump administration slowly works to reunite most, but not all, of the thousands of migrant parents and children it forcibly separated, there is a growing call from Republicans and administration officials to keep immigrant families locked up for the entirety of their bids for asylum or legal status, which could take months or years.

Detaining children for more than 20 days is currently illegal, but the GOP is considering several approaches to make it happen. On Capitol Hill, Republicans have introduced multiple bills that would repeal the decades-old legal protections for children in immigration facilities and allow for indefinite family detention, and ICE officials asked Congress directly on Tuesday to pass them.

“Give us the authority to hold the family as a family unit during the pendency of their immigration removal proceedings,” ICE Executive Associate Director Matthew Albence said. 

The administration could also attempt to chip away at Flores through the agency rule-making process, and while a federal judge recently rejected the Trump administration’s motion to overturn the Flores settlement, which created those legal protections, officials said Tuesday that they may appeal that ruling.

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