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 small coalition of senators from both sides of the aisle attempting to hammer out an immigration deal in the next few weeks has ballooned into a working group of dozens, many of whom have little to no experience with immigration policy.

With the March 5 deadline for protecting DACA recipients from deportation looming, Senate staffers tell TPM the “unwieldy” group of nearly 40 is still talking “in broad strokes.” If they can’t put together a bill by Feb. 8—the deadline imposed as part of the deal to end the government shutdown—the proposal crafted by Sens. Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC), which has already been rejected by the White House, may be the “only game in town.”

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On a conference call with House Republicans on Thursday, to which NBC and The Daily Beast obtained access, White House policy chief Stephen Miller described the immigration proposal President Trump will send to Congress on Monday.

In return for supporting a decade-long pathway to citizenship for 1.8 million immigrants who were brought to the United States as children, the White House will demand $25 billion for a border wall and other border security measures, the abolition of the diversity visa lottery, and an end to family-based immigration other than for spouses and children under 18.

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In a class action federal lawsuit filed Wednesday, 15 low-income Kentucky residents enrolled in Medicaid sued the Trump administration for giving the state’s Republican governor a green light to impose work requirements and other eligibility restrictions on the health program.

The plaintiffs, Kentucky Medicaid recipients with ages ranging from 20 to 62, represented by the Southern Poverty Law Center and other advocacy groups, are accusing the administration of “threatening irreparable harm to the health and welfare of the poorest and most vulnerable in our country,” and demanding the court block the implementation of the new requirements.

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On Monday night, moments after the Senate voted overwhelmingly to end the government shutdown, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) quietly put forward the nomination of former pharmaceutical executive Alex Azar to lead the Department of Health and Human Services. While his confirmation is likely to sail through the Senate on Wednesday, Democratic lawmakers and women’s health advocates are sounding the alarm about Azar’s statements on reproductive rights, religious rights, and the intersection of the two.

Amid the chaos of the shutdown, both the secretary’s confirmation and several other Trump administration actions related to women’s health have flown under the radar. With the Department’s move to draft rules protecting doctors who want to refuse to perform abortions, sterilizations, or assisted suicides, and the placement of hardline conservative activists in key health policy positions, some lawmakers worry the Department under Azar will “undermine years of progress” on reproductive rights.

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The Senate voted overwhelmingly Monday afternoon on a procedural step toward reopening the government for just three weeks—based on a promise from Senate Majority Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to hold a vote on an immigration bill. Once the Senate holds an all-but-certain vote on final passage of the temporary spending measure, the ball will be in the House’s court.

But while many Senate Democrats touted the progress made in their chamber and celebrated the government soon being “open for business again,” many House Democrats were furious, accusing their Senate counterparts of “caving” under pressure and noting that there are no assurances any immigration bill that makes it out of the Senate will even be considered by the lower chamber.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) declared Monday afternoon that she would oppose the package and urge her caucus to do the same.

“I don’t see that there’s any reason—I’m speaking personally and hearing from my members—to support what was put forth,” she said. “I don’t know what will come of it. But when it comes over here I know that there are a large number of our members who will not support it.”

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Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) revealed over the weekend that, in a failed attempt to stave off a government shutdown, he met the President’s asking price on funding for a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border in exchange for restoring the protections that Trump rescinded last year for roughly 700,000 young immigrants.

“The President picked a number and I accepted it,” Schumer said on the Senate floor. Noting that he still believes a wall is “expensive and a waste of money,” Schumer added that he made the “most generous offer” because it was “the last, best chance to avoid a shutdown.”

“All along the President is saying, ‘Well, I will do DACA and DREAMers in return for the wall,” he said. “He’s got it.” 

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The ranking Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee is demanding to see the communications of the Trump administration’s top Medicaid official to determine whether she is violating her ethics agreement by handling Medicaid waiver requests from states that paid her former consulting company, SVC Inc.

In a letter dated Jan. 19 to the general counsel of the Department of Health and Human Services obtained by TPM, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) is requesting an investigation into the potential conflicts of interest of Seema Verma, the administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), particularly her handling of waiver requests from Arkansas, Kentucky, and Iowa.

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On Thursday night, less than an hour before an expected vote on a short-term budget to avert a government shutdown, the House’s far-right Freedom Caucus announced they would be supporting the deal, all but assuring its passage.

Just a few hours earlier, House Freedom Caucus Chair Mark Meadows insisted he had enough “no” votes in his pocket to block passage of the deal. The change of heart came after Meadows spoke by phone with President Trump, and then huddled with House Speaker Paul Ryan. To secure the caucus’ support, a GOP aide told TPM that Ryan promised Meadows the following: “The House will take up and vote for a separate DOD funding and caps-busting bill to send to the Senate that fully funds our troops. The House will work on and ultimately vote on a conservative immigration bill to send to the Senate.”

But even if the one-month continuing resolution to fund the government passes the House Thursday night, it may run into trouble in the Senate, where both Democrats and Republicans have declared their intent to vote it down.

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As of Wednesday, amid internal GOP divisions on a spending bill and a potential shutdown looming Friday night, House Republicans had coalesced around a strategy: accuse Democrats planning to vote no because the plan doesn’t include relief for 700,000 young immigrants of deliberately blocking the renewal of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).

On Thursday morning, President Trump torched that strategy with a single tweet, indicating that CHIP should not be attached to the short-term spending bill at all.

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The fact that President Trump referred to certain nations as “shithole countries” last week did not come up once during Wednesday morning’s meeting between White House Chief of Staff John Kelly and more than a dozen members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

“I’m sure some people expected sparks to go off, but we just left that alone, because we didn’t see that as moving the agenda of the DREAMers forward,” Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) said when he emerged from the meeting.

But the reported slur hung over the meeting like a cloud, and the Latino members were additionally frustrated that Kelly gave them no clear indication of what the White House is willing to support on an immigration deal, and did not himself know the details of the bipartisan plans put forward in the House and the Senate. Other members present said while no s-bombs were dropped, Kelly used other terms they found offensive to refer to certain immigrants and immigration mechanisms.

With a potential government shutdown just a few days away, and many Democrats vowing to vote against any spending bill that doesn’t include relief for DACA recipients stripped of protections by the Trump administration, the lawmakers said Wednesday’s meeting was an opportunity for Democrats to “stand tall” and make sure the administration is not only listening to anti-immigrant hardliners.

“As you know, the President changes his mind quite often,” said Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA). “So what we want to do is make sure that the last person he hears is somebody who has heard from us.”

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