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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

Tierney Sneed contributed reporting.

Congressional Republicans had originally intended to return to their districts for the April recess riding high on the victory of fulfilling their years-long promise to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

Instead, they are returning empty-handed, and will spend the next two weeks hammered by negative TV ads, inundated by frustrated constituents from all sides of the political spectrum, and forced to explain why they haven't been able to pass a bill—or even finish writing one—despite control of both chambers of Congress and the White House.

"It's not the best spot to be in," Rep. Steve Womack (R-AR) admitted to TPM last week. "We are the governing majority, and they kind of expect us to say, 'This is what we plan to do.' It will be reasonable and understandable if my constituents demonstrate a level of frustration when I come back."

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Following President Trump's unilateral decision to launch missiles at a Syrian airbase—a decision reportedly triggered by an emotional reaction to pictures of wounded children in the area—the vast majority of lawmakers in both parties lined up to support the strike, but they acknowledged that Trump did not consult Congress in advance and that they do not know the long-term U.S. strategy in the region.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), asked for the legal justification for launching a military attack without seeking authority from Congress, shrugged off the question in a Friday press conference.

"I think the President has the authority to do what he did," he said, adding that he might be "interested in taking a look at" an Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) "if the President feels like he needs it."

Asked if there any discussions underway about bringing Congress back from their April recess to debate a military authorization, McConnell gave a one-word reply: "No."

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It seemed on Wednesday afternoon that Capitol Hill Republicans had resigned themselves to pausing their effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act until after the two-week April recess—promising to conduct a "slow and deliberate process."

"Obamacare took a year to get done," Rep. Pat Tiberi (R-OH) told reporters. "I think expectations were put too high in terms of how quickly this could happen."

But that did not satisfy the Trump administration, which reportedly demanded Congress move the ball forward before leaving Washington. That prompted the House Rules Committee to throw together a last-minute markup of a newly unveiled amendment that would funnel people with illnesses and disabilities into high-risk pools run by the states and subsidized by federal dollars.

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For the past seven years, the driving message of the Republican Party has been a pledge to get rid of Obamacare "root and branch," repealing "every word" of President Obama's health care reform law.

But now that Republicans control both chambers of Congress and the White House, this is proving easier said than done. Not only can the GOP conference not agree on what kind of system should replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA), some are beginning to rise to the defense of the laws' core protections.

Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-NC), the chief deputy majority whip in the House, told reporters Wednesday that a new proposal that would weaken protections for people with pre-existing conditions is "a bridge too far for our members."

McHenry, citing his own past medical history and that of his family, is now arguing against the weakening of certain Obamacare regulations, which he called "really important protections."

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After a brutal chemical weapons attack killed dozens of civilians, including many children, in northern Syria, Republican and Democratic senators on Capitol Hill are blaming the Trump administration for sending signals that encouraged the Syrian regime to "act with impunity."

"This is what obviously happens when the United States of America doesn't behave in a way that [shows] we care about human rights and the needless deaths of innocent people," Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) fumed to reporters on Tuesday, the day of the attack. "When the Secretary of State says that the Syrian people will decide their own future, that sends a signal to Bashar al Assad that he can do whatever he wants with impunity. It encourages the brutality and mass murder."

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It's deja vu all over again on Capitol Hill.

Less than two weeks after declaring their bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act "over" and vowing to move on to tax reform and other issues, Republicans are back at it, repeating the exact steps that led to the bill's demise the first time around.

Once again, we're seeing extensive concessions to the hardline House Freedom Caucus that the group's members say still don't go far enough. Once again, these same concessions are scaring off moderate Republicans. Once again, senators are skeptical that what the House is proposing can pass the upper chamber.

And as with the first bill, President Trump' White House is once again pushing for a rapid vote—potentially as soon as this week—though no text of the new bill has been drafted, there has been no Congressional Budget Office analysis, and Republicans received few details at Tuesday morning's conference.

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Never before has a presidency gone off the rails so fast.

Richard Nixon was forced to resign. Bill Clinton was impeached. George W. Bush spiraled into political oblivion after the Iraq misadventure, the failed attempt to overhaul Social Security, and the botched response to Hurricane Katrina.

But all these crises happened several years into their respective administrations, and after significant successes. Trump, just two months into his first term, with his approval ratings at historic lows and dogged by scandals, is on a plane of his own.

Former members of Congress, former congressional staffers, and experts tell TPM that they have never seen anything like the incompetence, distrust, and public airing of grievances that characterize the current relationship between President Trump and a Congress controlled by his own party, and say it is likely to stall the legislative agenda going forward.

On a darker note, they warn that Trump, mired in scandal and ineffectualness, may succumb to his own authoritarian impulses.

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A federal judge in Kentucky is allowing a lawsuit by three protesters assaulted at a Donald Trump campaign rally last March to move forward, agreeing with the plaintiffs that Trump's call from the podium for his supporters to "get 'em out of here" incited rally-goers to physically attack them.

The three protesters have sued Trump for incitement, vicarious liability, negligence, gross negligence, and recklessness.

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