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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

The top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee says whistleblowers have detailed a plot by the Trump administration to oust the CEO of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) and replace him with someone favored by the White House.

Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY) warned in a letter to the BBG, obtained by TPM, that that candidate, André Mendes, then plans to dismiss the existing Board of Governors, according to the whistleblowers.

In a statement to TPM, Engel called the alleged plot “our worst nightmare coming true.”

“This action would violate current law and represent what these whistleblowers have described as ‘a coup at the BBG,’ presumably with the aim of pushing the BBG’s journalism toward a viewpoint favorable of (sic) the Trump Administration,” Engel wrote to the BBG. “I view these claims as credible and this scenario as outrageous and unacceptable.”

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Congress must pass a sprawling $1.3 trillion omnibus budget by Friday evening to avoid yet another government shutdown, and many key policy disputes have not yet been resolved. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) has announced his intention to pass the bill out of the lower chamber on Thursday, giving the Senate just a single day to pass the bill, and allowing any disgruntled senator to filibuster and threaten a shutdown.

Because lawmakers expect that the omnibus will be the last major bill passed out of Congress ahead of the 2018 midterms, many are scrambling to hitch their own bills to the wagon—trying and so far failing to include policies tackling Capitol Hill sexual harassment, implementing an online sales tax, and addressing the status of 700,00-plus immigrant “Dreamers” living in legal limbo.

Many policy battles, however, remain. Here are five of the biggest sticking points still tying up the omnibus negotiations:

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Republicans in the House and Senate released a bill Monday afternoon that aims to shore up Obamacare’s damaged individual market and bring down insurance premiums. The bill would bring back the cost-sharing reduction (CSR) payments to health insurers that President Trump terminated last year, pour $30 billion into a federal reinsurance program, and fully restore funding to the open- enrollment outreach work that the federal government abandoned when Trump took office.

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Two State Department officials involved in an effort to sideline a civil servant suspected of disloyalty to the President also oversee an internal communications channel that allows department employees to question the administration’s policy decisions.

The two officials’ management of the channel likely gives them access to the names of U.S. diplomats and other agency employees who openly disagree with administration policy — information that independent watchdogs and members of Congress fear could be used in the effort to marginalize those deemed insufficiently loyal.

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A trove of e-mails obtained by House Democrats reveal efforts by top State Department officials — working hand in hand with the White House, outside conservatives and right-wing media — to sideline and demote career civil servants who are seen as disloyal to President Trump.

The report on the emails set off alarm bells across Washington, D.C. and prompted Democrats on the House Oversight Committee to demand that the State Department hand over records of internal communications on the issue. Department officials have reportedly labeled certain career staffers “troublemaker,” “turncoat” and “Obama/Clinton loyalist” because of their work for past administrations.

But independent watchdog groups tracking the issue tell TPM the problem is not confined to the State Department, citing similar acts of retaliation against career staffers throughout the government.

“I think we’re seeing a pattern across a number of agencies,” Nick Schwellenbach, the Director of Investigations at the Project On Government Oversight, told TPM. “Top political leadership is working to root out people they view as insufficiently loyal to Trump’s agenda. It’s extremely troubling, because federal government employees’ loyalty should be to the Constitution, not to the political masters of the moment.”

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Amid the wrangling over the budget omnibus that must pass Congress by the end of next week to avoid a government shutdown, lawmakers are locked in a heated debate about whether to prop up or further chip away at Obamacare’s individual market.

Dueling proposals recently introduced in the Senate take aim specifically at the question of cheap, deregulated, short-term health insurance plans, which are expected to lure younger and healthier people out of the ACA market and drive up premiums for those who remain.

A Democratic bill would sharply limit those short-term plans and force them to adopt Obamacare’s protections for people with pre-existing conditions. But a Republican effort, supported by the White House, wants to go in the opposite direction. It seeks to extend the length of short-term plans and make them renewable, essentially making the short-term plans indistinguishable from regular insurance plans and creating a entire shadow health care market free from the ACA’s rules and regulations.

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The cycle is getting shorter.

Before House Republicans had even learned the details of a new White House proposal for a three-year renewal of DACA paired with three years of border wall funding, the White House had already walked back the idea.

The Washington Post reported Wednesday afternoon that White House officials had been reaching out to Capitol Hill leaders to gauge their enthusiasm for the short-term deal, saying President Trump was on board with the plan despite his prior insistence that any immigration package include cuts to legal immigration. Just a few hours later, White House spokesperson Raj Shah said Trump does not support the short-term package and will only back a more comprehensive bill.

While the trail balloon was still aloft, several Republican lawmakers told TPM they would not be on board if such a provision was added to the upcoming budget omnibus.

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Next Friday’s omnibus budget deadline may be Congress’ last best chance for passing a bill to stabilize Obamacare’s volatile individual market and prevent premiums from shooting up just before November’s midterm elections. But the bipartisan effort that has dragged out since last summer may crumble in the face of opposition from conservative lobby groups and demands from President Trump and House Republicans that Democrats say are “poison pills.”

Even if Congress manages to pass some form of the bipartisan package lawmakers have spent months negotiating—restoring the cost-sharing reduction (CSR) payments to insurers terminated by the Trump administration last year and implementing a national reinsurance program—health care experts and some lawmakers say that won’t do enough to stop the bleeding.

“When Alexander-Murray was originally crafted and we all signed onto it on a bipartisan basis, the sabotage was still limited,” Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) told TPM in a sit-down interview in her office Tuesday. “There’s been so much more since then, so what might have been much more than a Band-Aid right now is more limited in how much it can do.”

Read the latest reporter’s sum-up (Prime access) on GOP efforts to undermine Obamacare »

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The news that President Trump had abruptly fired Secretary of State Rex Tillerson while he was on an overseas trip hit Capitol Hill Tuesday morning, as details trickled out throughout the day about the unclear circumstances of the ouster and what will happen in the weeks ahead.

“The State Department is in chaos,” Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) exclaimed to reporters, shaking his head as he stepped on the escalator in the Capitol’s basement.

Reacting to the news about Tillerson and another top State Department official fired Tuesday for contradicting the White House’s version of events, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) quipped: “At the rate this administration is hemorrhaging staff, pretty soon the President’s barber is going to play a big role in American foreign policy.”

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