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

The Senate voted overwhelmingly Monday afternoon on a procedural step toward reopening the government for just three weeks—based on a promise from Senate Majority Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to hold a vote on an immigration bill. Once the Senate holds an all-but-certain vote on final passage of the temporary spending measure, the ball will be in the House’s court.

But while many Senate Democrats touted the progress made in their chamber and celebrated the government soon being “open for business again,” many House Democrats were furious, accusing their Senate counterparts of “caving” under pressure and noting that there are no assurances any immigration bill that makes it out of the Senate will even be considered by the lower chamber.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) declared Monday afternoon that she would oppose the package and urge her caucus to do the same.

“I don’t see that there’s any reason—I’m speaking personally and hearing from my members—to support what was put forth,” she said. “I don’t know what will come of it. But when it comes over here I know that there are a large number of our members who will not support it.”

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Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) revealed over the weekend that, in a failed attempt to stave off a government shutdown, he met the President’s asking price on funding for a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border in exchange for restoring the protections that Trump rescinded last year for roughly 700,000 young immigrants.

“The President picked a number and I accepted it,” Schumer said on the Senate floor. Noting that he still believes a wall is “expensive and a waste of money,” Schumer added that he made the “most generous offer” because it was “the last, best chance to avoid a shutdown.”

“All along the President is saying, ‘Well, I will do DACA and DREAMers in return for the wall,” he said. “He’s got it.” 

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The ranking Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee is demanding to see the communications of the Trump administration’s top Medicaid official to determine whether she is violating her ethics agreement by handling Medicaid waiver requests from states that paid her former consulting company, SVC Inc.

In a letter dated Jan. 19 to the general counsel of the Department of Health and Human Services obtained by TPM, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) is requesting an investigation into the potential conflicts of interest of Seema Verma, the administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), particularly her handling of waiver requests from Arkansas, Kentucky, and Iowa.

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On Thursday night, less than an hour before an expected vote on a short-term budget to avert a government shutdown, the House’s far-right Freedom Caucus announced they would be supporting the deal, all but assuring its passage.

Just a few hours earlier, House Freedom Caucus Chair Mark Meadows insisted he had enough “no” votes in his pocket to block passage of the deal. The change of heart came after Meadows spoke by phone with President Trump, and then huddled with House Speaker Paul Ryan. To secure the caucus’ support, a GOP aide told TPM that Ryan promised Meadows the following: “The House will take up and vote for a separate DOD funding and caps-busting bill to send to the Senate that fully funds our troops. The House will work on and ultimately vote on a conservative immigration bill to send to the Senate.”

But even if the one-month continuing resolution to fund the government passes the House Thursday night, it may run into trouble in the Senate, where both Democrats and Republicans have declared their intent to vote it down.

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As of Wednesday, amid internal GOP divisions on a spending bill and a potential shutdown looming Friday night, House Republicans had coalesced around a strategy: accuse Democrats planning to vote no because the plan doesn’t include relief for 700,000 young immigrants of deliberately blocking the renewal of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).

On Thursday morning, President Trump torched that strategy with a single tweet, indicating that CHIP should not be attached to the short-term spending bill at all.

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The fact that President Trump referred to certain nations as “shithole countries” last week did not come up once during Wednesday morning’s meeting between White House Chief of Staff John Kelly and more than a dozen members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

“I’m sure some people expected sparks to go off, but we just left that alone, because we didn’t see that as moving the agenda of the DREAMers forward,” Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) said when he emerged from the meeting.

But the reported slur hung over the meeting like a cloud, and the Latino members were additionally frustrated that Kelly gave them no clear indication of what the White House is willing to support on an immigration deal, and did not himself know the details of the bipartisan plans put forward in the House and the Senate. Other members present said while no s-bombs were dropped, Kelly used other terms they found offensive to refer to certain immigrants and immigration mechanisms.

With a potential government shutdown just a few days away, and many Democrats vowing to vote against any spending bill that doesn’t include relief for DACA recipients stripped of protections by the Trump administration, the lawmakers said Wednesday’s meeting was an opportunity for Democrats to “stand tall” and make sure the administration is not only listening to anti-immigrant hardliners.

“As you know, the President changes his mind quite often,” said Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA). “So what we want to do is make sure that the last person he hears is somebody who has heard from us.”

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Friday marks the one-year anniversary of President Donald Trump taking the oath of office, and unless lawmakers can eke out a deal in the coming days, it could also mark the first government shutdown under his watch, and under unified one-party control in Washington.

Trump declared back in May that the country “needs a good shutdown” to “fix mess,” and amid uncertainty that lawmakers and the White House can agree on a path forward on government funding, immigration, or health care, a shutdown is becoming a tangible possibility.

Between now and Friday, Congress and the White House will scramble to cut a deal on DACA, the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), and a continuing resolution to keep the government open. Should those talks fail, the race will be on to blame the opposing party for the ensuing wreckage.

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On Friday, Kentucky became the first state in the nation, and in the nation’s history, to win permission from the federal government to impose a work requirement and several other new restrictions on its Medicaid program.

“It will be transformational in all the right ways,” Governor Matt Bevin (R) said in a speech announcing the waiver approval. “It has been long overdue.”

Friday’s announcement, which by the state’s own estimate will result in more than 90,000 people losing Medicaid coverage, is yet another marker in a massive about-face for health care in the state. Kentucky—which just a few years ago made headlines as an Obamacare “success story,” launching its own health insurance exchange and expanding Medicaid to more than 400,000 low-income residents—has seen a sharp reversal since electing a Tea Party governor in 2015.

With a whopping one-third of the state’s population now enrolled in Medicaid, and with state resources strained by a full-blown opioid addiction crisis, the fate of the new Medicaid work requirements will determine the future of health care not just for Kentucky but the nine states and counting who have their own waiver applications pending before Trump’s Department of Health and Human Services.

“Kentucky will soon be the unfortunate poster child of this dangerous policy,” lamented Rep. John Yarmuth (D-KY). “My only hope is that the chaos caused by this policy and the desperation of the Kentucky families who will soon lose their only access to health coverage will force Governor Bevin to demonstrate some level of compassion and reverse this disgraceful policy.”

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The Trump administration has swiftly followed through on its promise Thursday to grant approval for states to impose work requirements on their Medicaid programs, giving Kentucky a green light Friday afternoon.

Nine other states have similar waiver requests sitting before Trump’s Department of Health and Human Services, and more approvals are expected in the coming weeks.

It’s the first time in the program’s 50-plus-year history that such a requirement has been allowed, and lawsuits are expected to follow close on the heels of the announcement.

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