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.

This post was updated at 1 p.m. ET

Senate leaders were all smiles Wednesday after they broke a 24-hour impasse and announced they had reached a deal on how to move forward on a fast-track trade negotiating bill. That legislation would give the president expedited authority to enter into a trade agreement with Pacific Rim countries, otherwise known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP.

But how senators will vote on this bill depends largely on how they feel about TPP. And there's one problem.

Republican Warren Limmer sits in the second row of the Minnesota state Senate. He says more than 80 percent of his colleagues sit behind him. But he doesn't dare turn around to look at them when he gets up to speak.

He might get scolded. It has happened before.

"Then my cadence is thrown off," Limmer said. "I have to beg forgiveness to the Senate president. And then I'll get a slight admonishment, and then I can proceed."

Just a few weeks ago we heard a lot about a delicate compromise that would allow Congress to review any deal emerging from nuclear talks with Iran. It came from a bipartisan negotiation in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee — to wide acclaim.

There's a word you're going to be hearing a lot as Congress tries to pass a budget this year: reconciliation. It's a procedural fast-track lawmakers get to use after they approve a budget. Republicans are hoping to repeal the Affordable Care Act — or, at least parts of it — through reconciliation, but they're not likely to win that game.

A once widely supported Senate bill that would create a fund for human trafficking victims has hit a snag over language Democrats say they didn't know was in the bill — a provision that would bar funds collected under the measure from being used to pay for abortions. And the impasse over that language now threatens to delay other Senate business, like confirming a new attorney general.

Congress has until the end of Friday to figure out a way to fund the Department of Homeland Security. Otherwise, the department shuts down. But a "shutdown" doesn't mean workers go home. Instead, the vast majority of transportation security officers will have to keep showing up for work — but they won't be seeing paychecks until lawmakers find a way out.

For transportation security officers, it's a bad memory replaying way too soon.

A Case Of Deja Vu

"Regular order" is a phrase you'd normally hear only from Congress nerds, but it's increasingly common in conversations about the Senate this year.

When Mitch McConnell became Senate majority leader, he promised he'd restore what he called regular order in that chamber. But Democrats have been accusing him of violating regular order ever since.

When you listen to senators talk about regular order, it sounds like this fabulous, amazing thing. For Republican John McCain of Arizona, regular order is about getting stuff done.

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Incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says one of his top priorities will be to make the Senate work the way it used to — which would include the use of filibusters to block presidential appointments. But would that improve the way the Senate works? Republicans will be debating that question behind closed doors Tuesday. Many were furious when Democrats eliminated the filibuster for nearly all confirmation votes last year — a change some called the "nuclear option." But now that the GOP will be in the majority, they're not all that eager to go back.

At 72, after 30 years in the U.S. Senate, Mitch McConnell has finally realized his life's ambition.

He never wanted to be president — he just wanted to be Senate majority leader. And when he ascends to that perch come January, McConnell will finally have a chance to shape the chamber he says he deeply loves. McConnell declared his first priority will be to make what's been called a paralyzed Senate function again. But the politician who became the face of obstruction over the past four years will have to persuade Democrats to cooperate.

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There is very little upside for Democrats in yesterday's election results. Think about these names...

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Wendy Davis was a rising Democratic star who lost the Texas governor's race.

If Republicans take over the Senate, the man expected to become the next majority leader is Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. The title would be the culmination of a political career spanning more than three decades.

But first, McConnell has to win a sixth Senate term in a state where his popularity's been sagging.

At The Greater Piney Grove Baptist Church in Atlanta, about 700 congregants jam the pews every Sunday morning at 10:30. The church is near the edge of DeKalb County, and it's helping lead a "Souls to the Polls" drive.

Georgia Democrat Michelle Nunn is running an extremely tight race for Senate against Republican David Perdue, and the difference between victory and defeat could ride on the African-American vote. The push is on to get voters to turn out early — especially at black churches.

Think of it as a rematch of a rematch.

In New Hampshire, Democratic Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter is battling Republican Frank Guinta for the third time in a row. Each has beaten the other before – Guinta defeated Shea-Porter during the 2010 Tea Party wave, and Shea-Porter won her seat back in 2012.

You wonder if it starts to get boring when you're hitting the same rival over and over again.

"Well, I know what he's going to say, that's for sure," says Shea-Porter.
Guinta admits the same: "I mean, it is kind of old hat."

This week on Capitol Hill, a proposal to aid Syrian rebels got all the drama, while the larger government funding bill it was attached to barely got mention. But that spending package is quite similar to the one that led to the government shutdown in October — most notably, it still funds the Affordable Care Act. Yet this year, talk of a government shutdown was virtually nonexistent.

House Republicans were hoping for September to be a blissfully uneventful month, with election season just around the corner. But President Obama dashed those hopes this week, when he asked Congress for authorization to train and arm Syrian rebels against the group calling itself the Islamic State.

Arkansas Democrat Mark Pryor is running one of the closest Senate races in the country. The fight, which could determine which party will control the Senate next year, may be on its way to becoming the most expensive race in the state's history.

Since President Obama won in 2008, Arkansas has grown more Republican, but Pryor is still hoping to win a third term on his reputation as a down-the-middle guy.

Robert McDonald, President Obama's nominee to run the troubled Department of Veterans Affairs, is appearing before the Senate for his confirmation hearing. He faces the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, which will vote on whether to send his nomination to the Senate floor.

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And I'm Robert Siegel. It's a familiar dance in Washington - President Obama makes a request to Congress and the House says no. This time, the no is in response to the $3.7 billion dollars the president requested to respond to an influx of unaccompanied immigrant children at the U.S.-Mexico border.

As members of Congress continue hammering out a bill to improve the Department of Veterans Affairs' beleaguered health care system, attention has focused on one man leading the charge: Bernie Sanders, Independent senator from Vermont and a self-described socialist.

The House Committee on Homeland Security held a hearing Tuesday to address the influx of unaccompanied immigrant children from Central America. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson spoke at the proceedings, saying the situation at the border was "urgent."

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House Republicans have elected a new majority leader. As expected, Kevin McCarthy of California, currently the third-ranked Republican in the House, easily prevailed. And Steve Scalise of Louisiana won the fight to replace McCarthy as majority whip. The leadership shuffle followed last week's unexpected primary defeat of the previous majority leader, Eric Cantor. NPR's Ailsa Chang takes a look at the frenzied, 10-day contest to fill the newly vacated positions.

As President Obama continues to take heat for nominating to the federal bench a judge who once wanted to keep the Confederate emblem on the Georgia state flag, the White House says what's partly to blame for the choice is an old Senate tradition.

It turns out that tradition — which gives virtual veto power over judicial nominations to home state senators — helps explain why almost all the judicial vacancies without nominees are now in states with Republican senators.

If the judicial nomination of Michael Boggs gets derailed, at least one of Georgia's senators says it won't unravel a deal the two senators entered with the White House to select seven nominees for the federal bench in Georgia.

"The deal was we agreed on seven nominees for seven judicial appointments and asked for all of them to get a hearing at the same time, and that was the deal," said Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson of Georgia. "Everybody lived up to what they said."

The House Foreign Affairs Committee got a briefing on the threat from Boko Haram, a terrorist group that has kidnapped and is holding hundreds of Nigerian girls captive.

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One of President Obama's most controversial picks for the federal bench faced a barrage of hostile questions from Democrats, during his confirmation hearing today. Michael Boggs is a state judge in Georgia. He was nominated to the federal district court as the result of a deal between the White House and Georgia's two Republican senators.

As NPR's Ailsa Chang reports, Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee spent the morning hammering away at Boggs' conservative record.

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.

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