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 and Cameron Joseph contributed reporting.

Republican senators have a lot to say about the so-called “skinny repeal” bill they may pass late Thursday night, but almost no one argues the stripped-down, not-yet-fully-written legislation is good policy. The hope among GOP senators is that by passing it they can proceed to conference with the House, buying more time to hash out the Obamacare replacement they have promised for seven years.

In essence, Senate Republicans are voting for a bill many of them don’t want to see become law in the hope the House will save them from themselves. But they have no guarantee other than a few verbal “assurances” that the House won’t just pass skinny repeal and call it a day.

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After a wave of Republican defections Tuesday night tanked the Senate GOP’s main Obamacare replacement plan, the Senate held a vote Wednesday morning on bill to repeal much of the Affordable Care Act but delay its effect until 2020 to allow time to cobble together a replacement.

That vote similarly failed, 45 to 55. Seven Republicans joined with every single Democrat to defeat the bill: Sens. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), Susan Collins (R-ME), John McCain (R-AZ), Dean Heller (R-NV), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Rob Portman (R-OH) all voted no.

Several Republican senators from purple states that have expanded Medicaid voted yes on repeal-and-delay, including Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) and Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ).

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After pushing through—on a narrow, party-line vote—a motion to proceed to debating various plans to repeal the Affordable Care Act on Tuesday afternoon, Republicans brought their first plan up for a vote late Tuesday night, only to watch it fail 43 to 57 in a procedural vote.

Nine Republicans joined with Democrats to kill the Better Care Reconciliation Act (BCRA): Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Susan Collins (R-ME), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Rand Paul (R-KY), Bob Corker (R-TN), Tom Cotton (R-AR), Jerry Moran (R-KS), Mike Lee (R-UT) and Dean Heller (R-NV).


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Tierney Sneed contributed reporting. 

With an assist from Vice President Mike Pence and an appearance by a post-cancer surgery Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), Senate Republicans narrowly pushed through the motion to proceed to debate on repealing the Affordable Care Act. As they cast their votes, senators admitted to reporters that they have no idea which of many health care proposals they would be voting on in the end of a free-for-all amendment process that could last the rest of this week. But former holdouts, both moderate Republicans from Medicaid expansion states and hardline conservatives, said they relented and voted to advance into the unknown because they were promised they would have a fighting chance at passing their preferred policies in the end.

The Senate’s health care process has become a Rorschach—every lawmaker sees what they want to see in it.

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Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) has at various points over the past few months threatened to block a vote on Obamacare repeal if his “Consumer Freedom” amendment is not included. But on Tuesday, just hours ahead of a vote to proceed to debate on an unknown series of bills and amendments that may not include his policy, Cruz signaled willingness to vote for a stripped-down bill known as “skinny repeal.”

“I think it’s critical to honor our promise to repeal Obamacare,” he said, taking long strides down one of the narrow underground tunnels that snakes beneath the Capitol as a troop of reporters scurried to keep pace.

The purpose of the so-called “skinny repeal” strategy is simply to pass something, anything out of the Senate so that the House and Senate can go to conference to hash out their differences and create a final health care bill to send to President Trump.

“There’s no doubt that repealing the individual mandate and employer mandate are good, positive steps,” he said. “But I hope we can do far more and provide really meaningful relief that can drive down the cost of premiums.”

Asked if simply repealing the mandate would—as experts have warned—send the individual health care market into a death spiral where only the very sick buy insurance and prices skyrocket, Cruz demurred. “This is a legislative journey,” he said. “We aren’t there yet. We are making steady progress.”

Cruz’s apparently willingness to support a motion to proceed makes it all the more likely that Senate Republicans will muscle through the procedural hurdle Tuesday afternoon.

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With a vote to proceed on repealing Obamacare less than 24 hours away—and with most senators completely in the dark on what they’ll be voting on and whether they even have enough support to start the debate—GOP leadership is floating the idea that they can ship a bedridden Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) across the country to cast the deciding vote.

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In a video posted over the weekend, a key Republican senator who has helped scuttle previous Obamacare repeal votes signaled openness to voting for some kind of Obamacare replacement plan this week, though she seemed to hold firm on opposing repealing the Affordable Care Act with no replacement.

Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) is among the most closely-watched Republican senators heading into a highly uncertain week, where the long held GOP goal of Obamacare repeal hangs in the balance.

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Despite no single Republican health care proposal on the table clearing the bare minimum 50 vote-threshold for passage, the Senate is planning a vote to put a bill on the floor — and potentially, all the competing bills — early next week.

Since his acknowledgement that the Obamacare replacement bill the GOP Senate has been negotiating for weeks has failed to win over 50 supporters in his caucus, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s message to members has focused on the necessity of at least getting a debate open on the floor for any health care bill.

The best Republicans may be able to hope for is a series of votes that signal what would have been their preferred approach, so if the final bill fails, they can point the blame at other members.

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A glowing report by the Department of Health and Human Services on an amendment by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) that may be a key piece of next week’s health care vote-a-rama came under immediate fire earlier this week from economists and health care experts.

But additional problems with the report have since emerged, with experts saying it makes “unconscionable” and “farcical” assumptions in order to come up with a unrealistically positive outcome.

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