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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 Monday night, Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) officially submitted a request to the Department of Health and Human Services for permission to force the roughly 700,000 people enrolled in the state’s Medicaid expansion to prove they’re working at least 80 hours per month. If the waiver is approved, Ohioans unable to find work would have to get placed with an organization in their county and work without pay to earn the value of their health care benefits.

Ohio’s non-profit Center for Health Affairs estimates that 18,000 people could lose  coverage due to the requirement, though advocacy groups say that number could be much higher if eligible people are deterred by the bureaucratic hoops they have to jump through to document their employment status or prove they’re exempt due to a disability.

“We believe they’re vastly underestimating,” Katie McGarvey with the Legal Aid Society of Ohio told TPM. “There’s not an automatic way to do those exemptions, so each county will have to contact each individual, get documentation, and do an assessment. What if the person doesn’t get the mail or doesn’t have transportation to the appointment? It’s a huge administrative barrier and a lot of people who need the exemption and are eligible will fall through the cracks.”

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At an invitation-only roundtable with Capitol Hill reporters Friday morning, Rep. Steny Hoyer, the number two House Democrat, gave a full-throated defense of Democrats’ strategy of putting a thumb on the scale in primaries across the country. Hoyer was responding to criticism sparked earlier this week when The Intercept published a recording in which he urged a progressive candidate in Colorado to drop out of his race.

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Predicting the outcome of a Supreme Court case based on what the justices ask at oral arguments can be a fool’s errand, since their questions don’t always match up with the opinions they eventually write (and one justice famously says nothing at all). Many outlets are predicting that the court will side, possibly overwhelmingly, with the government — not wanting to second-guess their claim that the travel ban was motivated by true national security concerns. But it’s far from a foregone conclusion: Others, including myself, are not so sure, and heard several moments where justices seemed unconvinced by the government’s claims.

We’ll have to wait until June to learn the fate of President Donald Trump’s travel ban, but I want to highlight some of the key moments I observed inside the courtroom Wednesday morning, which may provide clues as to how the justices are looking at the case.

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WASHINGTON, D.C. — In weighing the constitutionality of President Donald Trump’s travel ban in highly-anticipated oral arguments Wednesday morning, the Supreme Court Justices returned repeatedly to the question of whether Trump’s executive order trampled on Congress’ right to set immigration policy.

On both the question of Separation of Powers and whether Trump’s anti-Muslim tweets “tainted” the legal rationale for the travel ban, the justices seemed to split along predictable ideological lines, with progressive Justices Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Elena Kagan, and Sonia Sotomayor taking the lead in asking the toughest questions of the Trump administration and conservative Justices Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch and Chief Justice John Roberts grilling the travel ban’s challengers. Justices Anthony Kennedy and Stephen Breyer were more reserved, expressing skepticism toward some of the administration’s claims but not revealing a clear desire to strike down the ban. As usual, Justice Clarence Thomas remained silent.

While no certain five-vote majority was apparent from the arguments either in support of the government or the challengers, the justices expressed a general deference to the executive branch, especially when it comes to claims of protecting national security, and did not seem eager to issue a decision stopping the ban in its tracks.

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WASHINGTON, D.C. — Early in the oral arguments Wednesday morning over the constitutionality of President Donald Trump’s travel ban, the Supreme Court’s more progressive justices grilled Solicitor General Noel Francisco about how much they should take Trump’s anti-Muslim tweets and campaign statements into account in determining whether the executive order was motivated by true national security concerns or by racial animus.

Specifically, Justice Elena Kagan asked Francisco to imagine an “out-of-the-box” President who campaigned as a “vehement anti-Semite,” and continued stoking a “hatred of Jews” during his time in office, who directs his staff to write a proclamation banning immigration from Israel.

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Ohio bucked the national trend in 2013, expanding Medicaid under a Republican governor and state legislature, but that expansion could now be in jeopardy. While the Democrats running for governor in 2018 have vowed to preserve the expansion, the GOP frontrunner wants a more aggressive federal waiver to block-grant Medicaid, impose work requirements and implement other restrictions, and his primary opponent has vowed to kill the expansion entirely.

Ohio’s May primary and November general election will determine the future of health care in a state whose death toll from opioid overdoses is second in the nation, and whose rural hospitals depend heavily on Medicaid for their survival.

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A new study out Monday morning from the Kaiser Family Foundation offers yet more proof of the threat the Trump administration’s short-term insurance rule poses to the country’s health-care markets. The rule allows healthier people to buy cheap, skimpy health-insurance plans, a policy that will drive up costs for sicker individuals who rely on comprehensive Obamacare plans to cover their medical needs. But Kaiser’s experts say even those who think they only need a bare-bones plan could find themselves deep in debt.

“Typical short-term policies do not cover maternity care, prescription drugs, mental health care, preventive care, and other essential benefits,” the report found. Additionally, “applicants with health conditions can be turned down or charged higher premiums, without limit, based on health status, gender, age, and other factors.” Furthermore, because the plans are not renewable, someone who becomes sick while enrolled could be shut out altogether after a single year.

The new report comes as the Trump administration wraps up the public comment period for its rule allowing these short-term plans to proliferate as a separate shadow market that will compete with Obamacare’s individual market. The Obama administration had limited use of these plans to just three months.

As we await the text of the final rule, even insurance industry lobby groups are asking the administration to slow down. “Short-term plans can provide an important temporary bridge for Americans who are transitioning between plans. But they are not a replacement for comprehensive coverage,” writes Matt Eyles, the new CEO of America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), a health-insurance trade association.

Meanwhile, two Trump administration trends — hostility toward American Indian rights and a zeal for imposing Medicaid work requirements — are converging.

Several states, including Michigan and Tennessee, are rushing to join the three that have already won permission from HHS to implement the work requirements — potentially pushing hundreds of thousands of people off of Medicaid rolls.

American Indian tribes have argued that their members should be exempt, as they are citizens of sovereign nations. But even though HHS has long considered tribes sovereign — for example, they never had to comply with Obamacare’s individual mandate — the Trump administration is arguing that American Indians are a race, not citizens of a sovereign government, and that an exemption would be an illegal “racial preference.” This argument, which goes against hundreds of years of tribes’ having their own legal standing, was made by political appointees at HHS, and may result in a lawsuit. Tribal communities have some of the highest unemployment rates and faces some of the most serious health challenges in the country, including very high rates of addiction.

Meanwhile, Trump’s HHS is working to roll back protections for transgender patients, undoing an Obama-era executive order banning doctors, hospitals and health-insurance companies from discriminating against anyone due to their gender identity. While the effort may end up in the same place as the administration’s attempt to re-ban transgender people from the military — tied up in federal court — many fear the change could empower care providers to discriminate or deny treatment.

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On Wednesday, in its final oral argument of the term, the Supreme Court will consider whether President Donald Trump’s ban on immigrants and refugees from Libya, Iran, Somalia, Syria, Yemen, North Korea, Venezuela and Chad can be permanent.

At the heart of the travel ban case is how much power the executive branch has over the U.S. immigration system, whether banning citizens of majority-Muslim countries violates the First Amendment, and whether Trump’s tweets and campaign speeches can be used as evidence that the policy was motivated by anti-Muslim animus.

The Supreme Court voted in December, with only two justices publicly dissenting, to stay a lower court’s ruling against the ban and allow it to go into effect — indicating that they’re leaning toward giving the administration the benefit of the doubt. But with a growing body of evidence that Trump and some of his advisers routinely express anti-Muslim animus, challengers hope the court will instead strike it down.

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YOUNGSTOWN, OHIO — Ahead of Ohio’s May 8 primary election, die-hard Democrats like Dave Betras are watching closely, but skeptically, for signs of 2018’s predicted “blue wave.”

“It’s like Donald Trump threw chum in the water and brought out swarms of sharks,” Betras, the chair of the Mahoning County Democratic Party, told TPM. “I see so many people getting excited and go out and march and work against him, but I don’t know whether those people will vote.” 

At the same time, Betras said, Trump remains popular. Some of his policies, like tariffs on Chinese steel, “sell well” in a state hit hard by globalization and outsourcing.

Trump can bang all the porn stars he wants and it won’t matter here,” he quipped. “They haven’t abandoned him yet.”

So far, more Democrats than Republicans have requested absentee ballots — a reverse of the usual midterm trend for the state. But is that a sign of higher enthusiasm on the left, or is it just that the Democratic primary in the governor race is seen as more competitive than the GOP primary. And though new progressive groups have sprouted up in the state amid an outpouring of post-2016 energy, and have organized everything from gun violence marches to an anti-gerrymandering ballot initiative, will those people show up to the polls in a midterm year?

Ever since Donald Trump won big in the longtime Democratic stronghold of Youngstown in 2016, helping him capture the key swing state and propelling him to the White House, Ohio Democrats have been asking themselves how to both coax Trump voters back into the fold and fire up the disaffected segment of the party’s base that sat out the 2016 election. With races for Governor, Secretary of State, Attorney General and U.S. Senator in 2018, a great deal is riding on whether they succeed.

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PORT CLINTON, OHIO — When Joe Helle returned to his small, rural hometown in 2011 after six years of active duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, he found his voter registration had been purged from the rolls, leaving him unable to cast a ballot in local and statewide elections that year.

“To go off to defend the right to vote only to find I’d been kicked off and couldn’t utilize that right myself, it was crushing,” Helle told TPM.

That experience, along with other frustrations with the area’s political leadership, motivated him to run successfully for mayor in Oak Harbor in 2016. This year, he’s running for his district‘s seat in the state legislature, which he hopes to flip from red to blue. If he wins, he plans to sponsor bills that would make it easier for Ohioans to vote.

“I’m a huge proponent of automatic registration. There’s no good reason we don’t do it,” Helle said. “I also think we should have same-day registration, so that if somebody decides an issue is important to them and they typically aren’t a voter, they can still show up at the polls on Election Day. I want people to vote when they want, as easily as they can.”

Even with a “blue wave” predicted for November, Republicans are expected to maintain their grip on Ohio’s House and Senate, giving Helle’s proposals little chance of becoming law, even if Democrats pick up several seats. There will, however, be several statewide races in Ohio this year — for Governor, Secretary of State, Auditor, and Attorney General — that wield significant power over the future of voting rights in the influential swing state.

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