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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

On Wednesday morning, the Senate Judiciary Committee grilled the man President Donald Trump tapped to lead the FBI:  former federal prosecutor Christopher Wray.

Wray, if confirmed, will take the position previously held by James Comey, who Trump fired in May after he refused to pledge loyalty to the president or to drop the ongoing federal investigation into fired National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.

On Wednesday, Wray assured the committee that despite the circumstances of his nomination, he will remain independent from the White House.

“If I am given the honor of leading this agency,” he said. “I will never allow the FBI’s work to be driven by anything other than the facts, the law, and the impartial pursuit of justice. Period.”

Wray went on to emphasize that his only loyalty is to “the Constitution and the rule of law.”

“They have been my guideposts throughout my career, and I will continue to adhere to them no matter the test.”

Later, under questioning from committee chair Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Wray promised “strict independence” and quipped: “Anybody who thinks I will be pulling punches as FBI director sure doesn’t know me very well.”

When asked by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) what he would do if the president asked him to do something illegal, Wray answered: “I would try to talk him out of it, and if that failed, I would resign.”

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Ears perked up all around Capitol Hill on Friday when Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC) announced he had been crafting an alternative, bipartisan health care plan as support crumbles for the Obamacare repeal bill pushed by GOP leaders.

But Graham, who coyly teased reporters that he wouldn’t reveal the policies under consideration until later this week, admitted that it was less of collaborative process with Democrats than a plan he hopes will appeal to some Democrats once it sees the light of day.

“I don’t know if this will attract bipartisan support, but it might,” Graham offered to TPM.

Prospects for this secret effort, however, do not look rosy.

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John Cornyn (R-TX), the second-highest ranking Republican in the Senate, went on Fox News Monday afternoon to assert with confidence that a vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act will happen next week. 

“We’ll turn to it perhaps as early as Tuesday, Wednesday,” he told Fox’s Trish Regan. It’s important we get this done and get it done soon. Next week is my expectation.”

Cornyn also asserted definitively a few weeks ago that a vote would happen before the July 4 recess, and told reporters he was “closing the door” on rumors of a delay. Then, a delay came.

Pressed on this point, Cornyn said: “People said they needed more time to offer their input. They have now had the time. They have offered that input. We have listened and made some modifications in the bill that will be made public here shortly.”

Though Regan enthusiastically agreed with Cornyn on some points, she went after him with sharp questions on both the content of the Senate’s health care bill and how it was crafted.

“I think there’s a lot of folks right now that feel a little exhausted by the process,” she said. “It seems like there’s the deadlines and they creep up and you keep missing them.” 

Later in the interview she asked Cornyn why Republicans are still at a loss to craft a unified vision on health after so many years of railing against Obamacare.

“You guys had, what, nearly eight years to come up with something,” she said. “Why is it that it’s such a struggle right now, given that there was a lot of runway there to work on different ideas and experiment with different things and maybe to gain some consensus? Now you’re down to the wire.” 

When Cornyn argued that Republicans’ choice is now between the status quo of Obamacare and “something better” in their bill, Regan quipped: “There are those that would argue it could be worse than the status quo.” 

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The Senate returns to D.C. Monday evening after a week-long recess, and on the surface they appear to be even further from a deal to pass a health care bill than when they canceled a planned vote in late June.

Existing ideological divisions were exacerbated over the break as lawmakers were hit from all sides—hounded by constituents at town halls, hammered with attack ads, and pressured by GOP leaders and President Donald Trump to pass something in the few short weeks before their August recess.

But despite some Republicans declaring the effort “dead,” a flurry of activity—including backroom negotiations and new data from the Congressional Budget Office—could bring the bill back to life. Some GOP leaders are even saying that a vote could happen as early as next week.

Here are the things to watch as the debate unfolds:

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The Senate returns today from a week-long recess—during which GOP lawmakers largely avoided their constituents—and will pick up where they left off in hammering out an agreement on their bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

Deep ideological, policy and political divides still remain among the Republican majority, exacerbated by a growing body of evidence that the bill would cause tens of millions of people to lose their health insurance over the next decade, raise out-of-pocket costs for millions more, and restrict access to crucial services.

Here are 9 charts that lay out the severe impacts of the Senate’s health care bill’s provisions.

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Russian attorney Natalia Veselnitskaya met with high-level members of President Donald Trump’s campaign shortly after he clinched the GOP nomination, according to a report published Saturday by the New York Times.

Veselnitskaya, who is married to a former deputy transportation minister, and who has represented several companies controlled by the Russian government, is best known for lobbying against a U.S. law that sanctions suspected Russian human rights violators. Striking down that law, the Magnitsky Act, has been a top priority for Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The meeting on June 9, 2016 reportedly including Trump’s son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner, his son Donald Trump Jr., and his erstwhile campaign manager Paul Manafort. Manafort and Kushner are now under investigation in the sprawling probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

The New York Times reports that representatives of Donald J. Trump Jr. and Mr. Kushner confirmed that the meeting did in fact take place, but declined to comment on whether the campaign itself was discussed. Kushner did not originally disclose the meeting on his White House security clearance form, but did so recently on an amended version. Manafort reportedly disclosed the meeting to congressional committees investigation Russian election interference.

 

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Just before leaving the G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany on Saturday, President Donald Trump held a bilateral meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping. Following that high-level talk, the White House blasted out a transcript of Trump’s public remarks preceding the meeting, a document that called Xi “President Xi of the Republic of China.”

One problem: the “Republic of China” refers to Taiwan. China is referred to as the “People’s Republic of China.”

This is not the first time that Trump has blundered into the extremely sensitive question of Taiwan’s sovereignty.

Before he was even sworn into office, Trump angered China by taking a phone call from Taiwan’s president, something a U.S. leader has not done in decades. Though Trump defended the call at the time, he later told Xi he would honor the “one China” policy and not recognize Taiwan’s status as a sovereign nation.

On Saturday, according to the White House’s transcript, Trump told Xi: “It’s an honor to have you as a friend,” and called China a “great trading partner.”

Though the White House did not provide a translation of Xi’s remarks, Shanghai Media Group’s correspondent Ching-Yi Chang shared a translation with the U.S. press.

Xi, striking a more sober note than Trump, said “there is a lot of work needed to be done” on the “sensitive issues [that] remain in the China-U.S. relationship.”

“Differences emerge endlessly,” Xi reported said.

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President Donald Trump’s attorneys argued in a court filing late Friday that a defamation lawsuit from former “Apprentice” contestant Summer Zervos—who claims Trump sexually assaulted her nearly a decade ago—should be dismissed.

Trump attorney Marc Kasowitz said that Zervos’ accusations are false and “politically motivated,” and said that Trump’s campaign trail statements calling Zervos and 10 other women who accused him of sexual harassment “liars…telling totally false stories” are legal under the First Amendment and do not constitute defamation.

“The Statements—all of which were advanced during a heated political campaign to convince the public to vote for Mr. Trump, and many of which were published via Twitter—constitute non-actionable rhetoric and hyperbole that is protected by the First Amendment,” the filing reads.

Kasowitz, who is also representing him in the investigation into potential collusion with Russia to influence the 2016 election, further argued that a 1997 Supreme Court ruling that held that presidents can be sued while in office for their private conduct only applies to federal lawsuits. Zervos’ lawsuit was filed in New York’s state court system.

Zervos, who must file a reply to the court in August, has accused Trump of groping and kissing her against her will when she visited him to ask for a job at the Trump Organization. She said she would not have filed the suit had the infamous Access Hollywood tape of Trump bragging about groping another woman not leaked, and had Trump not publicly denied he had ever engaged in such behavior.

“You do not have the right to treat women as sexual objects just because you are a star,” Zervos said when she filed the suit.

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Russian President Vladimir Putin held a press conference Saturday morning at the G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany, claiming that President Donald Trump accepted his denials of Russian hacking and interference in the 2016 election when the two leaders met in private on Friday.

Putin, according to the Associated Press, confirmed what Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told reporters after the meeting: that Trump asked Putin multiple times about accusations that Russia interfered in the U.S. presidential election on his behalf.

Putin asserted Saturday that he thinks his answers denying allegations of Russian meddling “satisfied” Trump.

“It seems to me that he has taken note of that and agreed, but it’s better to ask him about his attitude,” Putin said, according to AP. Putin added that “Moscow and Washington would be able to improve their ties if the two countries keep relating the way he and Trump did.”

U.S. officials denied this account of the meeting on Friday, but did so anonymously instead of in a public press conference.

But Tillerson, much to the alarm of U.S. lawmakers, said the Friday meeting between the two presidents focused not on accountability for the hacking, but on how to “move forward,” including plans to cooperate on cybersecurity.

Trump, in a break with longstanding tradition, left the G20 summit without holding a press conference. He was one of the only world leaders to do so.

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