Ailsa Chang

Ailsa Chang is an award-winning journalist who is a correspondent for NPR's Planet Money team. She landed in public radio after spending six years as a lawyer.

Previously, she was a congressional correspondent with NPR's Washington desk. She has covered battles over Supreme Court nominees, healthcare, immigration, gun control and the federal budget.

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.

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.

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.

Chang grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area.

As expected, an energy efficiency bill failed in the Senate on Monday, which makes a separate Senate vote on the Keystone XL oil pipeline unlikely before the November election.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid had made a Keystone vote contingent upon passage of the energy efficiency bill, and letting one doom the other may have temporarily gotten him out of a bind.

There's a long-held assumption that women are more likely than men to collaborate. As the number of women in Congress has increased, however, so has the partisanship and gridlock. So does a woman's touch actually help on Capitol Hill?

There's a lot of academic research that supports the idea that women are better at building bipartisan coalitions. Studies have found that women in Congress not only sponsor more bills but also collect more co-sponsors for those bills.

One of the Democrats top election themes this year was stopped cold in the Senate on Wednesday. Republicans successfully blocked Democrats from even taking up a bill to raise the minimum wage.

Hundreds of people gathered on the National Mall Friday to see if they could break the Guinness World Record for the largest group dressed as comic book characters ever assembled.

It was the kickoff to Awesome Con 2014, a comic book convention that will take place in Washington, D.C., this weekend. In the end, the group came up short by several hundred people to break the world record.

But with so much superhero power concentrated next to the U.S. Capitol, NPR had to ask: Did the caped figures have any advice for Congress?

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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.

Negotiators in the Senate reached a bi-partisan deal to extend unemployment benefits for 5 months, retroactive to the end of last year. A full Senate vote isn't expected until later this month.

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The Senate has rejected a proposal that would have allowed military prosecutors, rather than commanders, to decide which sexual assault cases to pursue. As NPR's Ailsa Chang reports, the legislation pitted two women of the Senate, both Democrats, both lawyers, against each other - Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, who pushed the bill, and Claire McCaskill of Missouri, who lead the charge against her.

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The House overwhelmingly passed legislation last night to undo flood insurance reform that Congress passed less than two years ago. When homeowners started calling lawmakers about sharp premium hikes, both chambers moved swiftly to ease the pain.

NPR's Ailsa Chang reports.

AILSA CHNAG, BYLINE: In 2012, Democrat Maxine Waters of California put her name on a bill that was meant to help the National Flood Insurance Program dig itself out of huge debt. Last night, she said she made a big mistake.

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.

Members of the House and Senate sit and listen and often applaud the presidential State of the Union, but when it's done many members crowd the microphones in Statuary Hall to oppose the chief executive's vision.

In a tally that surprised even its sponsors, a half dozen Republican senators gave Democrats enough votes to move forward with a bill extending emergency unemployment benefits for another three months. The proposal likely faces an even tougher hurdle in the Republican-controlled House.

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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.

The Senate is debating rival plans on how to prosecute cases of sexual assault in the military. The problem is vast: 26,000 military sexual assaults last year, with only 3,000 reported and 300 going to trial. Sens. Claire McCaskill of Missouri and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York have competing proposals for dealing with the issue.

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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.

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.

Senate Republicans have once again blocked President Obama's nominees. Despite a deal in July to let several of the president's picks go through, the rancor has returned with a fresh batch of appointments. Two nominations failed within less than an hour on Thursday, and Democrats may once again threaten to change Senate rules so Republicans can't easily derail another nomination.

The messy rollout of the online exchanges under the Affordable Care Act has provided fodder for Republicans determined to make Obamacare an issue in the 2014 elections.

A handful of Democratic incumbents in battleground states are among senators now calling for an extension of the open enrollment period, which could be a way to curry favor in relatively conservative states.

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With the debt ceiling deadline looming just two days away, Senate leaders say they're close to a deal that would reopen the government and avert default. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell have been leading bipartisan talks on a way out of the deadlock. Even if a bipartisan agreement clears the Senate, it will likely be a hard sell to House Republicans.

For weeks, economists and bankers have been warning that there will be catastrophic consequences if Congress fails raise the nation's borrowing limit.

They say it will mean the nation will default on its debt, which could rock U.S. and global markets. The Treasury has warned that it will exhaust the "extraordinary measures" it has been using to keep paying the nation's bills by Oct. 17.

As the government shutdown enters its fifth day, House Republicans and Senate Democrats continue to spar over who's being more unreasonable in this fight.

GOP members now find themselves on the defensive, as they face questions about forgoing pay and forgoing staff during the widespread furloughs.

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The brinksmanship is familiar, but nobody quite knows how the fight over a government shutdown will end.

GREENE: Congress has to pass a bill by midnight to keep the government in full operation. House Republicans demanded that all funds be denied to Obamacare in exchange for keeping the government running 45 days. The Senate overwhelmingly said no.

As expected, the Senate passed a bill Friday to keep the government funded through mid-November — without stripping any funding away from the president's health care law.

Now the action returns to the House, where Republicans earlier in the week tied the measure to defunding the Affordable Care Act. With the threat of a shutdown looming three days away, the question is now, what will the House do?

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And President Obama is also paying close attention to what's unfolding on Capitol Hill this week. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid tried to move forward yesterday on a bill to keep the government running past October 1st.

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SEN. HARRY REID: I ask unanimous consent the Senate proceed to Executive Session to consider nominee number...

SEN. TED CRUZ: Mr. President.

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