Ailsa Chang

Ailsa Chang is an award-winning journalist who covers Congress for NPR. She landed in public radio after spending six years as a lawyer.

Since joining NPR in 2012, Chang has covered battles over immigration, the healthcare law, gun control and White House appointments. She crisscrossed the country in the months before the Republican takeover of the Senate, bringing stories about Washington from the Deep South, Southwest and New England.

Chang started out as a radio reporter in 2009, and has since earned a string of national awards for her work. In 2012, she was honored with the Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Silver Baton for her investigation on the New York City Police Department's "stop-and-frisk" policy and allegations of unlawful marijuana arrests by officers. The series also earned honors from Investigative Reporters and Editors and the Society of Professional Journalists.

She was also the recipient of the Daniel Schorr Journalism Award, a National Headliner Award, and an honor from Investigative Reporters and Editors for her investigation on how Detroit's broken public defender system leaves lawyers with insufficient resources to effectively represent their clients.

In 2011, the New York State Associated Press Broadcasters Association named Chang as the winner of the Art Athens Award for General Excellence in Individual Reporting for radio.

The former lawyer served as a law clerk to Judge John T. Noonan, Jr. on the United States Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit in San Francisco.

Chang graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Stanford University where she received her bachelor's degree.

She earned her law degree with distinction from Stanford Law School, where she won the Irving Hellman, Jr. Special Award for the best piece written by a student in the Stanford Law Review in 2001.

Chang was also a Fulbright Scholar at Oxford University, where she received a master's degree in media law. And she has a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University.

Prior to coming to NPR, Chang was an investigative reporter at NPR member station WNYC from 2009 to 2012 in New York City, focusing on criminal justice and legal affairs. She was a Kroc fellow at NPR from 2008 to 2009, as well as a reporter and producer for NPR member station KQED in San Francisco.

Chang grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Now that the Supreme Court has eliminated the cap on the total amount one individual can give to candidates in each election, many are wondering how the very rich will respond.

If they spread their money across a wider swath of lawmakers, would that improve their chances of passing the legislation they want?

Casino magnate Sheldon Adelson could be the first test case.

Expanding One's Reach Across Congress

Adelson is pushing a bill through Congress that would ban online gambling, and he has pledged he will spend "whatever it takes."

With only four days left before the March 31 enrollment deadline, the White House is kicking into high gear trying to round up more Affordable Care Act enrollees – and Louisiana got special attention Thursday.

Why? Enrollment in the federal healthcare exchange there has lagged behind other states and, perhaps as important, citizens are getting bombarded with anti-ACA ads as Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu gears up for a tight race in November.

For all the campaigning and schmoozing members of Congress have to do, the truth is that the vast majority of Americans will never actually meet their lawmakers.

To be fair, not everyone wants to. But among those who do, there's serious competition for a lawmaker's time. So, how does an average citizen get access on Capitol Hill? The quick answer: It's not easy.

First, do the math. When it comes to face time with a member of Congress, there are 535 of them, and 314 million of you.

Republicans have a decent shot at taking control of the Senate in November, so President Obama could have as little as nine months left to shape the judiciary he will leave behind.

Senate Democrats positioned themselves to help with that endeavor when they eliminated the filibuster for most judicial nominees last November. But Republicans are still finding ways to slow things down.

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After months of anticipation, the Senate has rejected a proposal to fundamentally change the way the military prosecutes sexual assault. Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand of New York needed 60 votes for a bill that would give military prosecutors, rather than commanders, final say over which sexual assault cases to prosecute. The legislation got 55 votes today.

The House is expected to vote as early as next week to partially repeal a 2012 law that overhauled the National Flood Insurance Program, which is tens of billions of dollars in debt.

The law was meant to make people living in flood-prone areas foot more of the insurance bill. But lawmakers didn't realize how many homeowners would be affected — or how hard they'd be hit.

You can find some of those homeowners in Bayou Gauche, about 30 miles west of New Orleans.

If Democrats are going to keep their majority in the Senate, they'll need to hang on to a few critical seats they hold in conservative states.

Mary Landrieu of Louisiana has one of those, and like some of her colleagues up for re-election, her support of the Affordable Care Act could be the mountain to overcome this fall.

The question for Landrieu is: Will Louisiana voters define her by Obamacare, or judge her on the entire record she's built over nearly two decades as a senator?

For Some, Obamacare's A Dealbreaker

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When Congress reached a bipartisan budget deal last December, there was much fanfare about the compromises made by both parties. And immediately afterwards, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle began working to reverse one of the spending cuts - a small reduction in military pensions. One plan to restore those pensions is up for a vote today in the Senate. As NPR's Ailsa Chang reports, resistance against the small cut is calling into question whether Congress has the political will to reduce the long-term debt.

This year marks the first time Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina has had to run for office since the emergence of the Tea Party. Graham has never faced much Republican opposition during his two decades in Congress, but this June, he's already heading into a primary with four Republican challengers who say he's not conservative enough for the Palmetto State. Voters say the race has become a battle for the heart and soul of the Republican Party in South Carolina.

For gun control advocates hoping to see federal gun laws tighten after the shootings in Newtown, Conn., 2013 was a disheartening year. A narrow provision to expand background checks failed in the Senate.

For gun rights activists, the death of that legislation proved once more their single-issue intensity and decades-long grass-roots organizing were enough to prevail. Those are also valuable lessons for their opponents.

A 'Voice' For Lost Children

With a new White House push to promote the Affordable Care Act well underway, the question is whether an improved HealthCare.gov site and onslaught of positive talking points will be enough to bolster Senate Democrats facing tough races in 2014.

One re-election fight to watch is Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen's in New Hampshire, where she's been taking heat for supporting the new health care law.

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And I'm Steve Inskeep. The first part of October was a political disaster for the Republican Party. After being blamed for the government shutdown, the GOP approval rating fell to historic lows.

MONTAGNE: The weeks since have become a political disaster for Democrats. Problems with the Affordable Care Act have knocked President Obama's poll ratings as low as they've ever been.

Twenty-nine lawmakers are supposed to come up with a long-term budget deal by mid-December. They meet again Wednesday around a conference table, led by two people who couldn't be more different: Democratic Sen. Patty Murray of Washington state and Republican Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin.

It's taken for granted that lobbyists influence legislation. But perhaps less obvious is that they often write the actual bills — even word for word.

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