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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

A wide gulf continues to separate Republican senators as they furiously negotiate the fate of their health care bill after canceling a vote last week when it became evident it would go down in flames. While GOP senators cannot even agree on the basic questions of health care policy—whether people with pre-existing conditions should be protected from discrimination, whether or not to scrap Obamacare’s taxes on the wealthy, whether Obamacare should be repealed without a replacement ready—they have coalesced around a strategy of working the refs.

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White House officials confirmed Thursday that Donald Trump is expected to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G-20 summit next week. Russian government sources already had confirmed the two leaders would meet.

But asked in an off-camera briefing if the President would bring up in that meeting Russia’s interference in the 2016 election on his behalf—an effort confirmed by U.S. intelligence agencies—National Economic Council Chair Gary Cohn demurred.

“We don’t have an agenda set up right now,” he said. “As you know, these meetings are a week away. We haven’t finalized the schedule.”

When reporters asked what the Trump administration is doing, if anything, to hold Russia accountable for hacking in the run-up to the election and prevent such activity in the future, National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster said that all government departments are working together to “confront Russia’s destabilizing behavior” and “deter Russia.” He declined to give details of that effort.

McMaster then pivoted to speak in greater detail about the need for the United States to work with Russia on national security matters.

“What are the areas that we can identify in which we can work together with Russia? There are a lot of problems in the world that fall under that category,” he said, rattling off North Korea, battling international terrorism, and the ending the conflict in Syria.

Tierney Sneed and Caitlin MacNeal contributed reporting.

Key senators from the far-right and more centrist wings of the Senate GOP conference indicated their openness Thursday to keeping some of Obamacare’s taxes in their health care bill in order to fund more generous support for lower income people purchasing health insurance.

“There is interest among a number of our members on that issue,” confirmed Sen. John Thune (R-SD), a member of the GOP leadership team. “I’ve been open all along, if that takes that to get consensus. But obviously, we’d like to get rid of all the taxes, because taxes were raised in order to pay for Obamacare, and we’re repealing Obamacare. But if it takes something like that to get our members on board and move this process forward, we have to consider that.”

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Tierney Sneed contributed reporting.

Senate Republicans emerged grim-faced and tight-lipped from a closed-door lunch meeting Tuesday with the news that they were delaying a vote on their bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act until after the July 4 recess.

The decision came as more senators from both the hard-right and centrist wings of the caucus announced their intent to vote no on a procedural hurdle, effectively stopping the bill dead in its tracks. Some of these defections were fueled by a brutal Congressional Budget Office analysis that showed the bill would cause 22 million people to lose their health insurance over the next decade.

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Tierney Sneed contributed reporting.

Senate leaders’ plan to pass a bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act before the July 4 recess has hit a roadblock: a mini-revolt by a cadre of Republicans from both the moderate and far-right wings of the party who announced Monday they would not vote to advance the bill as it’s currently written.

On Tuesday morning, a fifth senator joined the opposition: Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT). Lee had previously excoriated the effort as a “caricature of a Republican health care bill,” noting that it leaves in place many of Obamacare’s regulations and prioritizes tax cuts for the wealthy as well as payments to insurance companies. A spokesperson for Lee told TPM: “We are still working with leadership to change base bill.”

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Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) confirmed Monday night that she will vote against her own party’s motion to proceed on a bill that would repeal much of the Affordable Care Act, cut hundreds of billions of dollars from Medicaid, and trigger insurance coverage loss for 22 million people over the next 10 years.

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Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) didn’t mince words about the Senate GOP’s Obamacare repeal bill, which is slated for a vote later this week.

“It’s a terrible bill,” he told reporters Monday evening at the Capitol.

Paul under questioning then went further, saying he would not vote for the bill itself or on the procedural motion to proceed, threatening to kill the bill before its gets a floor vote. Due to Republicans’ narrow majority in the Senate, the GOP can only lose two votes.

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There have been no hearings, the public has not yet seen the final bill text, the Congressional Budget Office has not yet released its score, and several prominent Republicans are calling for a delay. Still, the Senate is barreling towards a vote on the GOP bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act by the end of this week.

With a much slimmer majority than Republicans enjoy in the House, and much of their caucus publicly criticizing the bill from the right and from the center, the vote could come down to just a handful of lawmakers—who are right now being inundated with calls, protests, and attack ads.

Here are the senators to watch:

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Appearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee under oath this week, Attorney General Jeff Sessions was asked whether he had “any contacts with any representative, including any American lobbyist or agent of any Russian company” during the 2016 campaign. Sessions, one of Trump’s earliest supporters, answered: “I don’t believe so.”

On Thursday, an American lobbyist for several major Russian interests, including a state-run energy company and a private equity firm with the state-run Alfa bank, told the Guardian that Sessions in fact hosted him at two dinners during the presidential campaign. The dinners occurred around the time time that the American public learned of Russian efforts to influence the presidential election.

Richard Burt, a former U.S. ambassador to Germany who now lobbies on behalf a pipeline company owned by the Russian energy giant Gazprom, said he attended events with Sessions at least twice last year, and his ties to the Trump campaign were reported as early as last October. Burt made hundreds of thousands of dollars in 2016 alone lobbying Congress to exempt a proposed natural gas pipeline from U.S. sanctions, which would allow more Russian gas to flow to European markets—a key geopolitical goal of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Burt also serves on the board of the Center for the National Interest, a Russia-friendly D.C. think tank that hosted Trump’s foreign policy speech at the Mayflower Hotel last April. Politico reported that Burt helped shape the address Trump delivered at that event, which Sessions attended as the chairman of the Trump campaign’s national security committee.

This is not the first time Sessions has failed, under oath, to recall a meeting with a Russian official or ally.

During his confirmation hearing in January, Sessions said without being directly asked: “I have been called a surrogate at a time or two in that campaign and I did not have communications with the Russians.” He also replied with a blanket “no” to the committee’s written question: “Have you been in contact with anyone connected to any part of the Russian government about the 2016 election?”

The Justice Department later admitted this was not true, that he met twice with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.

 

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