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

Just one week ago, Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) came out swinging against the Senate bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act—saying its deep cuts to Medicaid would devastate her low-income constituents, emphasizing that more funding for opioid addiction alone would not be enough to win her over, and vowing to stick her neck out to be the vote that kills the bill if necessary.

“I only see it through the lens of a vulnerable population who needs help, who I care about very deeply,” said Capito, whose state’s uninsured rate would spike more than any other if the bill becomes law. “That gives me strength. If I have to be that one person, I will be it.”

A few days later, a revised bill hit her desk. It included an extra $45 billion dedicated to treating the opioid epidemic that has wracked her state and many others, but the hundreds of billions in Medicaid cuts that so concerned her remained unchanged.

Yet Capito, and a handful of other moderate Republican lawmakers who quite recently cited the Medicaid cuts as a deal-breaker, were oddly tight-lipped last week after the updated bill’s release, and went out of their way to avoid speaking to reporters.

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Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) released a statement Friday torching the revised Senate bill that would largely repeal the Affordable Care Act and made deep cuts to Medicaid, calling the legislation “unacceptable” and calling on senators to start over with a truly bipartisan process.

Kasich’s strong opposition makes life even harder for Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH), who says he is currently undecided on the bill as a vote approaches. Portman previously said he has “real concerns” about the bill’s cuts to Medicaid, which would hit Ohio and other Medicaid expansion states particularly hard. The revised version of the bill keeps those cuts in place.

Kasich is one of several Republican governors in states that expanded Medicaid who are working to stop the passage of the Senate bill, leaning on their state’s senators to vote now. On Thursday, Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), vented his frustration at these governors’ opposition to these cuts to the social safety net.

“Are you kidding me?” he said in exasperation. “I’m sure every governor would love for us to send free, un-paid for money back home. But I’m sorry, if governors were where we were, looking at an unsustainable situation, trillions of dollars in debt, they would be looking at the same reforms. If we cannot cause our governors to play an appropriate role, an appropriate partnership. … It’s not appropriate right now.”

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GOP leaders unveiled the Senate’s revised health care bill on Thursday, and the updated legislation included a version of a controversial amendment drafted by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) that would allow insurers to offer cheap, bare-bones plans that cover few health care services as long as at least one plan per state complies with Obamacare’s regulations.

To address concerns that Cruz’s amendment would lower prices for the young and healthy by making them skyrocket for the people who need a comprehensive insurance plan or have a pre-existing condition, the amendment purports to allocate billions in additional funding that states could use “to assist such health insurance issuers in covering high risk individuals.”

But as Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) told reporters on Thursday, there is no additional money. Instead, the amendment takes money already appropriated in the bill for other needs and says it can be used for these payments to insurers under the Cruz Amendment.

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Caitlin MacNeal and Tierney Sneed contributed reporting.

After huddling behind closed doors for more than an hour on Thursday to discuss the freshly-unveiled text of their revised health care bill, most Senate Republicans emerged with declarations of confidence about next week’s expected vote.

“I haven’t quite seen the white smoke, but it’s looking much better,” Sen. Rodger Wicker (R-MS) told TPM with a grin.

Sen. David Perdue (R-GA) described the meeting as “very conciliatory.”

“I think we’ve got something we can work with,” he said.

But a host of Republican lawmakers are either torching the revised bill or withholding their support. As of Thursday afternoon, at least two GOP senators—Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME) and Rand Paul (R-KY)—vowed to vote no on the motion to proceed. If just one more joins them, it will be enough to tank the Obamacare repeal effort entirely. At least ten other senators told reporters Thursday that they are undecided.

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Tierney Sneed contributed reporting.

An updated version of Senate Republicans’ health care bill will be released Thursday morning, but as of Wednesday afternoon few lawmakers had any idea what that bill would include, or even if one or two versions will be unveiled.

The GOP senators scurried, tight-lipped and irritable, through the subterranean corridors of the Capitol’s basement, harried aides trailing after them, snapping at reporters who peppered them with questions on legislation they still haven’t seen.

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On Wednesday morning, the Senate Judiciary Committee grilled the man President Donald Trump tapped to lead the FBI:  former federal prosecutor Christopher Wray.

Wray, if confirmed, will take the position previously held by James Comey, who Trump fired in May after he refused to pledge loyalty to the president or to drop the ongoing federal investigation into fired National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.

On Wednesday, Wray assured the committee that despite the circumstances of his nomination, he will remain independent from the White House.

“If I am given the honor of leading this agency,” he said. “I will never allow the FBI’s work to be driven by anything other than the facts, the law, and the impartial pursuit of justice. Period.”

Wray went on to emphasize that his only loyalty is to “the Constitution and the rule of law.”

“They have been my guideposts throughout my career, and I will continue to adhere to them no matter the test.”

Later, under questioning from committee chair Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Wray promised “strict independence” and quipped: “Anybody who thinks I will be pulling punches as FBI director sure doesn’t know me very well.”

When asked by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) what he would do if the president asked him to do something illegal, Wray answered: “I would try to talk him out of it, and if that failed, I would resign.”

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Ears perked up all around Capitol Hill on Friday when Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC) announced he had been crafting an alternative, bipartisan health care plan as support crumbles for the Obamacare repeal bill pushed by GOP leaders.

But Graham, who coyly teased reporters that he wouldn’t reveal the policies under consideration until later this week, admitted that it was less of collaborative process with Democrats than a plan he hopes will appeal to some Democrats once it sees the light of day.

“I don’t know if this will attract bipartisan support, but it might,” Graham offered to TPM.

Prospects for this secret effort, however, do not look rosy.

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John Cornyn (R-TX), the second-highest ranking Republican in the Senate, went on Fox News Monday afternoon to assert with confidence that a vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act will happen next week. 

“We’ll turn to it perhaps as early as Tuesday, Wednesday,” he told Fox’s Trish Regan. It’s important we get this done and get it done soon. Next week is my expectation.”

Cornyn also asserted definitively a few weeks ago that a vote would happen before the July 4 recess, and told reporters he was “closing the door” on rumors of a delay. Then, a delay came.

Pressed on this point, Cornyn said: “People said they needed more time to offer their input. They have now had the time. They have offered that input. We have listened and made some modifications in the bill that will be made public here shortly.”

Though Regan enthusiastically agreed with Cornyn on some points, she went after him with sharp questions on both the content of the Senate’s health care bill and how it was crafted.

“I think there’s a lot of folks right now that feel a little exhausted by the process,” she said. “It seems like there’s the deadlines and they creep up and you keep missing them.” 

Later in the interview she asked Cornyn why Republicans are still at a loss to craft a unified vision on health after so many years of railing against Obamacare.

“You guys had, what, nearly eight years to come up with something,” she said. “Why is it that it’s such a struggle right now, given that there was a lot of runway there to work on different ideas and experiment with different things and maybe to gain some consensus? Now you’re down to the wire.” 

When Cornyn argued that Republicans’ choice is now between the status quo of Obamacare and “something better” in their bill, Regan quipped: “There are those that would argue it could be worse than the status quo.” 

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