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ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- A powerful Democratic House chairman on Friday warned the White House legal counsel that his committee is now in possession of material that his panel says shows President Donald Trump’s lawyers “may have provided false information” to federal officials about reimbursements to Trump’s former fixer for 2016 hush money payments over alleged extramarital affairs.

House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings, in a letter to White House Counsel Pat Cipollone, said “the panel has now obtained internal notes taken by the Office of Government Ethics (OGE) describing their interactions with the White House lawyers regarding the President’s payments and debts to Michael Cohen.”

Cohen, Trump’s former longtime personal lawyer and fixer, has been convicted of crimes including campaign finance violations, tax evasion, and lying to Congress. He was sentenced to three years in prison.

In particular, Cummings takes aim at the president’s personal attorney, Sheri Dillon, who the chairman says “repeatedly stated to federal officials at OGE that President Trump never owed any money to Mr. Cohen in 2016 and 2017.”

Cohen said in his August plea hearing that those are the years during which then-candidate Trump directed the hush money deals made in the closing weeks of the 2016 campaign. Cohen told the court he acted “in coordination with and at the direction of a candidate for federal office,” referring to then-candidate Trump.

Trump has denied the affairs and has previously said the payments amount to nothing more than a “simple private transaction,” and that they do not qualify as campaign finance violations.

However, Cummings points to Office of Government Ethics notes, not released publicly by the committee, allegedly indicating that officials tried, on three occasions starting in mid-March 2018, to get Dillon to confirm that Trump did not owe Cohen money paid on the presidential candidate’s behalf to Stephanie Clifford, an adult film actress who goes by Stormy Daniels to prevent her from discussing the alleged affair.

Such a payment would need to be reported on government financial filings.

On the officials’ second attempt to confirm with Dillon, Office of Government Ethics officials, according to Cummings, asked, “Like for 2017, if there was any money owed in 2016, he would have to amend to report that, so please confirm he did not owe Mr. Cohen money...At any point did he owe Mr. Cohen money?”

“Not that I’m aware of,” Dillon replied, according to the committee-released documents.

After multiple attempts to get Dillon to confirm this information, the president’s attorney on April 26, 2018 - according to OGE officials - responded that she “confirmed that with the filer,” an apparent reference to President Trump.

The committee noted that Office of Government Ethics also made one undated reference in which officials “summarized the position being relayed by the president’s representatives: ‘Michael Cohen did not loan Pres Trump $.’”

But the chairman - in a heading in the letter entitled “False Claims of a ‘Retainer’ Agreement” - notes that the story about the payments to Cohen changed soon after.

Referencing an interview that Rudy Giuliani did on Fox News May 2, 2018, in which the president’s personal attorney appeared to acknowledge that his client reimbursed Cohen - calling the payments a “retainer” that was “funneled through a law firm,” and also noting a Trump tweet a day later confirming the reimbursement as “a private contract between parties,” Cummings said OGE officials then asked Dillon about the money.

“At that point, Dillon abandoned her previous argument that President Trump never made any payments to Mr. Cohen,” the letter to Cipollone states, adding, “Instead she told OGE officials: ‘Mr. Cohen always knew that he would be reimbursed but the mechanisms for reimbursement changed over time.’” Dillon, according to the committee documents, likened the reimbursements to “payments for a kitchen remodel.”

The letter states that Deputy White House Counsel Stefan Passantino made similar statements, arguing the payments were merely “revolving credit” that “shouldn’t be disclosed,” according to the committee. When OGE officials became suspicious of the “retainer” explanation, they asked Dillon to review the agreement with Cohen, but she refused, according to the Office of Government Ethics and the House committee, citing “privilege.”

But prosecutors in New York, in documents related to Cohen’s guilty plea, indicated that there was no such retainer agreement.

And in May 2018, the president - on his financial disclosure forms - disclosed up to $250,000 in payments to Cohen, though a footnote on the document indicated that the disclosure was “not required.” But the chairman cited in the Cipollone letter court documents in the Cohen case which state that the payments actually totaled $420,000, significantly higher than that indicated on the financial disclosure form.

In the Friday letter to Cipollone, Cummings demanded that the White House Counsel release documents related to the entire Cohen matter and takes issue with the attorney apparently only offering the committee limited review “in camera” of two categories of documents.

“As an initial accommodation, the Committee is willing to review any documents that you make available,” the letter states, adding, “However, your offer does not obviate the need for the White House to fully comply with the Committee’s request and produce all of the requested documents within the timeline specified by the Committee.”

The White House and Dillon did not respond to messages seeking comment.

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Mark Wilson/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) --  Special counsel Robert Mueller’s office agreed that onetime Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort’s financial crimes warrant a prison sentence of 19-24 years, but stops short of taking a position of their own on a suggested prison term under federal guidelines.

“The government agrees with the guidelines analysis in the Presentence Investigation Report … and its calculation of the defendant’s Total Offense Level as 38 with a corresponding range of imprisonment of 235 to 293 months, a fine range of $50,000 to $24,371,497.74, a term of supervised release of up to five years, restitution in the amount of $24,815,108.74, and forfeiture in the amount of $4,412,500,” the special counsel’s office wrote in a sentencing memorandum filed Friday night.

A presentence investigation report (PSR) is prepared by the court’s probation department in advance of sentencing meant to assist a judge in fashioning an appropriate sentence.

Special counsel prosecutors refrain from taking a position of their own on Manafort’s sentencing, but call his crimes “serious, longstanding, and bold,” adding that, at 69 years old, “Manafort’s age does not eliminate the risk of recidivism he poses.”

“Manafort acted for more than a decade as if he were above the law, and deprived the federal government and various financial institutions of millions of dollars,” prosecutors wrote. “The sentence here should reflect the seriousness of these crimes, and serve to both deter Manafort and others from engaging in such conduct.”

A Virginia jury found Manafort, a veteran political operative and lobbyist, guilty on eight counts of tax and fraud crimes in August and was unable to reach a verdict on ten additional counts.

His sentencing in Virginia was initially scheduled for February 8, but U.S. Judge T.S. Ellis postponed it pending the resolution of a dispute about Manafort’s plea agreement with prosecutors in Washington, DC.

Manafort signed on to a plea deal in November with the special counsel’s office which allowed him to plead guilty to two counts of conspiracy in the Washington D.C. case, provided he cooperated with Mueller’s team.

The special counsel’s office has accused Manafort of breaching the plea agreement by lying to federal prosecutors. Manafort’s defense team insists their client did not intentionally lie.

On Wednesday, U.S. Judge Amy Berman Jackson sided with prosecutors, ruling that Mueller’s office was “no longer bound by its obligations under the plea agreement.” Her ruling means Manafort could face a more severe prison term when he is sentenced in the Washington, DC, case next month.

In light of Judge Jackson’s ruling, prosecutors asked Judge Ellis on Friday to “set a new sentencing date as soon as practicable.”

“Because the DC Court has determined that Manafort intentionally lied to the government, and the breach of the agreement was conceded by the defendant and found by the DC Court,” the special counsel’s office wrote Friday, “the government submits there are no outstanding issues warranting delay in proceeding to sentencing before this Court.”

Manafort is scheduled for sentencing in the Washington, DC, case on March 13. A date for his sentencing in Virginia has not been set.

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Office of Representative Bobby Rush(NEW YORK) -- New Jersey high school students made history earlier this year by becoming the first known high school class to draft a bill, lobby it in Congress and eventually have it signed into law.

It all started three years ago in an honors civics class at Hightstown High School. Stuart Wexler was teaching his classmates about the Civil Rights movement and specifically about the various racist hate crimes taking place at the time that went unsolved. After some research, the class discovered that around a dozen of these cases had recently been reopened and then closed again without resolution.

Oslene Johnson was a junior in high school at the time and said that the class was then motivated to try and provide some sort of justice for these victims and their families. They decided to create a shared document where they worked together to draft what is now the Civil Rights Cold Case Records Collection Act. The law requires that decades-old government records relating to unsolved civil rights cases be reviewed, declassified and released to the public.

"I think the most important driving force for us throughout this entire process has been what it could possibly mean for the families of the victims able to have access to the information about their relatives about what happened to their relatives," Johnson said.

The students spent the first year drafting the bill, but then came the tricky part: getting members of Congress to sign on to the bill. Students would spend their class time making phone calls, sending emails and tweeting to Congressman trying to get their bill some type of attention. Some even traveled to Washington, D.C. and lobbied their bill to congressman own their on.

Aditya Shah was also a junior in the civics class and said that it was difficult at first getting congressman to take their efforts seriously and that they received a lot of rejection initially. However, once the students were able to get in the door and get a meeting, Shah said they always made an impression.

"I remember one of the staffers telling me, 'Wow you guys are way more prepared than some of the actual lobbyists who come in and lobby for their bills,'" Shah said.

Illinois Rep. Bobby Rush was the first congressman to sign on as a co-sponsor of the bill and said that he was overwhelmed and inspired by these students' dedication and persistence.

"They came up with a great solution to an unrecognized and unacknowledged problem that existed for years," Rush said.

Alabama Sen. Doug Jones was also one of the early supporters of the bill and introduced the bill to the United States Senate. Jones said that he was also impressed by how much research the students did on the issue of these civil rights cold cases.

"They really understood how important it was to bring some healing to these communities," Jones said.

Some of the students actually traveled to Washington, D.C. to witness Sen. Jones introduce the bill on the Senate floor, and said it was a day they will never forget. Some sitting in the Senate gallery had to fight back tears as they watched Jones give an impassioned speech about their bill and its' importance.

Three years later, the bill was signed by President Trump and for students like Shah it is still a little unbelievable.

"We were able to surmount each challenge and we grew in our passion and our vigor and I just was so proud to see that all of our efforts, determination, hard work and drive was able to help so many people's lives and change the dialogue in a nation," Shah said.

The law requires the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) to create a collection of records for unsolved criminal civil rights cases that all government offices must disclose to without redaction. It also establishes a Civil Rights Cold Case Records Review Board which will operate as an independent agency made up of private citizens that will be responsible for reviewing the records and the public disclosure of the records relating to such cases.

Rush, who has a long history with the civil rights movement in Illinois, said he hopes the release of these records will help solve civil rights cases that nobody cared about and provide investigative facts for families.

"There will be no guessing, no speculating," Rush said. "So in some instances families will be relieved, and in some instances they will be grieved. But they will know what the facts are."

For the students, one of their major takeaways was that it showed them what it means to work together as a country to implement change.

"What this has taught me is that, no matter my age, I can do something that can have a positive change that will affect our entire country," said Johnson.

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(WASHINGTON) -- A federal judge on Friday issued a limited gag order in the case of Roger Stone, the veteran and voluble political operative and former adviser to Donald Trump, in an effort, the judge said, to protect potential jurors from being “tainted by pretrial publicity.”

Judge Amy Berman Jackson described the scope of the order as “narrowly-tailored,” and will allow Stone, known for his frequent and colorful television interviews, to continue speaking publicly about the probe – as long as he refrains from doing so near the federal courthouse in Washington, D.C.

That part of her order applies to all the lawyers and witnesses involved in the case, including the special counsel’s office.

“All interested participants in the matter, including the parties, any potential witnesses, and counsel for the parties and the witnesses, must refrain, when they are entering or exiting the courthouse, or they are within the immediate vicinity of the courthouse,” Jackson wrote, “from making statements to the media or to the public that pose a substantial likelihood of material prejudice to this case or are intended to influence any juror, potential juror, judge, witness or court officer or interfere with the administration of justice.

Jackson cited the “size and vociferousness of the crowds” gathered outside the courthouse for Stone’s pre-trial hearings to justify her ruling.

But attorneys and witnesses in the probe were also hit with a much broader gag order, which prohibits them from “making statements to the media or in public settings that pose a substantial likelihood of material prejudice to this case,” Jackson wrote.

The special counsel’s office indicted Stone in January on five counts of lying to Congress, as well as witness tampering, and obstruction of justice. He pleaded not guilty to all seven counts.

At a preliminary court hearing earlier this month, Jackson warned she might impose a gag order on Stone, a self-described “dirty-trickster” known for his gregarious relationship with the press.

He went on a media blitz in the days following his arrest in Florida that caught the judge’s attention. She warned him not to treat the pre-trial process "like a book tour. His media appearances have tapered off since that warning.

Stone’s attorneys objected to the prospective gag order in court documents filed last week, arguing that such a move would unfairly silence their client.

“We are pleased that Mr. Stone’s First Amendment Rights have been safeguarded. Courthouse steps are reasonable places for restraint for all,” Stone attorney Bruce Rogow told ABC News in a statement Friday.

Judge Jackson reserved the right to impose additional restrictions on Stone in the future and warned him that, if he continues making public statements, he may only hurt his own case and have no one to blame but himself.

“Finally, while it is not up to the Court to advise the defendant as to whether a succession of public statements would be in his best interest at this time, it notes that one factor that will be considered in the evaluation of any future request for relief based on pretrial publicity will be the extent to which the publicity was engendered by the defendant himself,” she wrote in her order.

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Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump announced his decision Friday to declare a national emergency over what he called an "invasion" at the southern border. The declaration will allow his administration to use additional funding for a border wall, which Congress refused to fund in full in the bill passed Thursday to keep the government open.

Here are some of the statements the president made to justify going around Congress to fund the border wall to the tune of about $8 billion, a plan that is likely, by the president's own admission, to face immediate legal challenges.

Crisis at the border?

Trump: "I get my numbers from a lot of sources like Homeland Security primarily, and the numbers that I have from Homeland Security are a disaster."

The numbers that come out of his own Department of Homeland Security, instead of supporting his claim of an "invasion," show that illegal border crossings are at historic lows.

According to Customs and Border Protection data, illegal migration is down dramatically over the last two decades.

For example, in 2001 there were 1,643,679 apprehensions at the border, compared with 396,579 in 2018 -- a more than 75 percent drop.

Crime rates for undocumented immigrants

Trump: “Take a look at our federal prison population, see how many of them, percentage-wise, are illegal aliens, just see. Go ahead and see.”

The president said this in response to a question about the disconnect between the president’s description of an “invasion” at the southern border and the numbers from his own administration.

In reality, undocumented immigrants are about half as likely to be incarcerated as native-born Americans, according to a report from the Cato Institute on nationwide prison incarceration rates.

Trump, however, specifically said to look at numbers in federal prisons — which is where someone is confined when they commit an immigration offense.

That means the rate for undocumented immigrants in federal prison is higher: One in five prisoners in federal prisons was known or suspected to be undocumented immigrants, according to a 2018 Justice Department report.

Also in the report: Approximately 90 percent of the country’s inmate population is in state prisons and local jails — not federal prisons.

How drugs get into the country along the southern border

Trump: “The big drug loads don't go through ports of entry, they can't go through ports of entry, you can't take big loads cause you have people we have some very capable people, the border patrol, law enforcement, looking.”

The biggest fentanyl bust in history was made just a few weeks before the president made this claim. According to an announcement from the federal government, 254 pounds of the lethal drug heroin were seized by Customs and Border Protection. But the smugglers weren't trying to sneak across the border with the drugs in backpacks, or through an underground tunnel. The drugs were loaded into a trailer filled with cucumbers and shuttled to a U.S. port of entry in Nogales, Arizona.

According to the Drug Enforcement Administration's 2018 Drug Threat Assessment, the majority of drugs enter the U.S. through ports of entry at the southwest border.

“The majority of the flow is through POVs (privately owned vehicles) entering the United States at legal ports of entry, followed by tractor-trailers, where the heroin is co-mingled with legal goods,” according to the DEA assessment. Are there other ways of getting drugs in the country from Mexico? Yes. By water, and by air and through other borders, but those methods account for only a small percentage of the heroin seized by the U.S.

A "small percentage" of all heroin seized along the border was between ports of entry, according to the DEA assessment.

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Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Rep. Will Hurd said that President Donald Trump's proposed border wall is the "most expensive and least effective way" to handle border security Friday on "The View."

Hurd's response comes after the president's announcement that he will declare a national emergency to fund his border wall.

The Republican congressman represents Texas' 23rd Congressional District, which stretches roughly 820 miles from El Paso to San Antonio -- accounting for more of the southern border than anyone else in the House of Representatives. Hurd said he does not believe there is a national emergency at the border, as President Trump has claimed.

Hurd called for better technology on the border, including drones and radar, instead of what he believes is an unnecessary wall that would stretch 2,000 miles down the border between Mexico and Texas.

"What we should be talking about is the strategy on how to defend our border, not one specific tool -- which is the wall," Hurd said.

Hurd also addressed the issue of eminent domain for land owners on the border.

"A thousand land owners would be impacted," Hurd said. "And guess what? They are going to sue."

Eminent domain is the power of the government to purchase private land for public use.

While Hurd does believe that a barrier could be valuable in some places along the border, the congressman is advocating for what he describes as a "smart wall," which would include a series of upgrades and new technology to protect the border.

"We believe that we have some of the best technology on the border right now, [but] that's not necessarily the case," Hurd said.

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Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) --  House press secretary Sarah Sanders confirmed Friday that she has been interviewed by special counsel Robert Mueller's team investigating Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

“The President urged me, like he has everyone in the administration, to fully cooperate with the special counsel. I was happy to voluntarily sit down with them,” Sanders said in a statement to ABC after the news was first reported by CNN.

One source tells ABC News the interview happened roughly 7-9 months ago, around the same time that it's believed other White House officials were being brought in for interviews.

Sanders isn’t the only member of the communications staff to sit for an interview with the special counsel’s office.

Former White House communications director Hope Hicks and former press secretary Sean Spicer also were interviewed by Mueller’s team.

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Kevin Dietsch - Pool/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- The committee that put together President Donald Trump’s inauguration celebrations has now received a second subpoena as questions grow about the fundraising and expenditures around the most lucrative inauguration in the nation’s history.

Lawyers for the president’s inauguration received a civil subpoena from the New Jersey State Attorney General’s office within the last few days, according to sources familiar with the matter.

This marks the second subpoena the committee has received; just a few weeks ago the committee was contacted by federal prosecutors in New York’s Southern District seeking documents and records related to the inaugural committee’s activities including fundraising and spending activity for the $107 million dollars raised – the largest for any inaugural in history.

The contact made by the New Jersey State attorney general’s office is a civil matter which could potentially lead to a civil lawsuit, but it is not a criminal investigation. It is also being led by state prosecutors, unlike the New York probe which is being led by federal investigators.

The probe in New York is a criminal matter.

“The PIC [Presidential Inauguration Committee] is in receipt of an Administrative Action Subpoena issued by the Attorney General of New Jersey, who is conducting through his Consumer Protection Division a civil inquiry related to the PIC. The PIC is in contact with staff regarding the inquiry,” a committee spokesperson confirmed to ABC News in a statement Friday.

A spokesperson for the attorney general’s office declined to comment.

The first subpoena from the Southern District, which came from its public corruption section earlier this month, seeks documents and records related to the committee's donors to the massive inauguration fund, according to sources familiar with the request.

Prosecutors also are seeking information on attendees to the events surrounding the inauguration, including benefits to top-level donors such as photo opportunities with Trump, sources said.

Recently, internal documents obtained by ABC News showed the committee spent more than $1.5 million at the Trump International Hotel in Washington ahead of the president's 2017 swearing-in. It's part of an array of expenditures there and elsewhere that included more than $130,000 for customized seat cushions at two gala dinners for the president-elect, $10,000 to provide makeup to the servers at another formal dinner, and $2.7 million to a company that produced a Broadway-style rendition of Frank Sinatra's "New York, New York" using Las Vegas showgirls flown in by Trump pal Steve Wynn for a private event.

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dkfielding/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- The Supreme Court has agreed to hear an expedited appeal by the Commerce Department to add a controversial citizenship question to the 2020 census.

In a single page order, the justices took the rare step of granting the Trump administration's request to hear the matter before the case has fully worked its way through lower courts and been heard by the Circuit Court of Appeals.

A federal district court earlier this year sided with New York State and a coalition of local governments and advocacy groups which argued the question was unconstitutional and violated the Administrative Procedure Act. The district court ordered the question struck from the census. The Supreme Court said the case would be added to the April calendar for oral arguments.

This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.

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Alex Wong/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump capped months of political drama Friday, announcing he's signing a bill to fund the government, avoiding another government shutdown, while also taking the extraordinary action of declaring a national emergency to secure additional funding for his proposed border wall that congressional Democrats refused to give him.

"I am going to be signing a national emergency," Trump said.

The president explained his highly controversial move in a Rose Garden announcement, saying "We're going to confront the national security crisis on our southern border and we're going to do it one way or the other."

He said he was taking "critical actions" but "not because it was a campaign promise."

"We're talking about an invasion of our country with drugs, with human traffickers, with all types of criminals and gangs," he explained.

"I don't have to do it for the election, I've already done a wall for the election, 2020," the president said in a sometimes rambling justification for his actions, blaming Democrats.

"And the only reason we're up here talking about this is because of the election, because they want to try and win an election which it looks like they're not going to be able to do, and this is one of the ways where they think they can possibly win -- is by obstruction and a lot of other nonsense -- and I think that I just want to get it done faster that's all," he said.

As he spoke, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders tweeted out a photo of the president signing the emergency declaration.

Trump's decision to go along with a congressional border security deal funding deal comes after a 35-day shutdown -- the longest in U.S. history -- and after three weeks of negotiations by a bipartisan group on Capitol Hill that delivered a bill without all the wall money the president wanted. The measure includes $1.375 billion for border security, enough to construct about 55 miles of new barrier in new areas, but less than the proposal Trump rejected late last year, triggering the shutdown.

The president's emergency declaration order and other executive actions come on the heels of warnings from the Justice Department that the moves are nearly certain to be blocked by court challenges, at least temporarily.

Trump is seeking to a total of about $8 billion through a mix of spending from the congressional appropriations bill, executive action and the emergency declaration.

A senior White House official familiar with the plan to get money beyond the congressional funding told ABC News $1.375 billion would come from the spending bill Congress passed Thursday; $600 million would come from the Treasury Department's drug forfeiture fund; $2.5 billion would come from the Pentagon's drug interdiction program; and through an emergency declaration: $3.5 billion from the Pentagon's military construction budget.

Both Republicans and Democrats have voiced opposition to Trump's emergency declaration, a workaround that would allow him to build a border wall without support from Congress.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who had previously opposed the president's moves, announced on the Senate floor Thursday the news that Trump would sign the deal, and that he would support an emergency declaration.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, in a joint statement issued just after the president's Friday announcement, said, "The President’s unlawful declaration over a crisis that does not exist does great violence to our Constitution and makes America less safe, stealing from urgently needed defense funds for the security of our military and our nation.

"This is plainly a power grab by a disappointed President, who has gone outside the bounds of the law to try to get what he failed to achieve in the constitutional legislative process," their statement continued. "The President's actions clearly violate the Congress’s exclusive power of the purse, which our Founders enshrined in the Constitution. The Congress will defend our constitutional authorities in the Congress, in the Courts, and in the public, using every remedy available. "

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MarianVejcik/iStock(FRANKFURT, Ky.) -- A bill proposing that adults don't need a permit to carry a concealed firearm is one step closer to passing in Kentucky.

If it passes in the Republican-controlled state House of Representatives, Kentucky will become the third state to pass such a law in recent weeks.

SB 150, which allows for anyone 21 or older who is allowed to legally possess a firearm to carry them concealed without a special permit, passed the Kentucky Senate on Thursday with a vote of 28 to nine.

Kentucky is already an open carry state, which the Giffords Law Center, a gun violence prevention advocacy group, notes means the state has no laws prohibiting the open carrying of firearms. If passed, SB 150 would make it easier for people to conceal firearms within the state.

State Sen. Damon Thayer, a Republican who voted for the measure, spoke to that distinction during the debate on Thursday.

"All we’re saying is: Wearing a coat around over top of your legally carried firearm doesn't make you a felon," Thayer said, according to local station WLWT.

The permit process in Kentucky involves an eight-hour training course from a certified instructor and typically costs about $75, according to The Lexington Herald-Leader.

The debate in the Kentucky Senate -- which was the same day as the one-year anniversary of the Parkland high school shooting -- came the day after a similar permitless carry law passed in Oklahoma.

Connie Coartney, a member of the Kentucky chapter of advocacy group Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense, was at the hearing and tweeted out a picture, writing that it was "hard to believe this is how the @KYGOP observes the worst school shooting in US history."

Permitless carry, or "constitutional carry" as gun advocates call it, was also signed into law in South Dakota on Jan. 31 and will go into effect in July.

Jennifer Baker, a spokeswoman for the National Rifle Association, told ABC News that in passing the law in South Dakota, it "became the the fourteenth state to enact this common sense measure allowing law-abiding citizens to exercise their fundamental right to self-protection in the manner that best suits their needs."

"The NRA has constitutional carry bills moving through the Kentucky and Oklahoma legislatures where both governors have committed to sign the bills into law," Baker said.

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JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg returned to the Supreme Court Friday for the first time since undergoing cancer surgery in December, a court official tells ABC News.

The 85-year-old Ginsburg, who had two cancerous nodules removed from her left lung in an invasive pulmonary lobectomy, had been recovering from home and absent from court proceedings for the first time in her 25-year career on the bench.

Officials have said she has remained engaged in the casework.

Earlier this month, Ginsburg made her first public appearance in weeks but kept a low profile, attending a production of "Notorious RBG in Song" at the National Museum of Women in the Arts and sitting in the back of the auditorium. Her return to the bench is expected to be a relief to liberals and her legions of fans, who had feared her retirement or death would give President Donald Trump another opportunity to solidify the court's conservative majority in the highest court in the land.

It will also dispel rumors and conspiracies that have swirled in recent weeks -- fanned by right-wing bloggers -- that her demise is imminent. The court said last month that Ginsburg's doctors confirmed in an exam following the surgery that she had "no evidence of any remaining disease" and that no further treatments were planned.

The justices are meeting behind closed doors in conference Friday to discuss cases and vote on petitions for review. The court will reconvene for oral arguments on Tuesday. Ginsburg is expected to be back in her seat beside Chief Justice John Roberts, but court officials could not confirm her attendance. ABC News' Wil Cruz contributed to this report.

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ANNECORDON/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- Though a large number of the 2020 presidential election-related headlines continue to focus on the questions that surround major names like former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Sherrod Brown and former Rep. Beto O'Rourke, those who have already declared their candidacies or launched exploratory committees are beginning to receive more substantive inquiries on their platforms and positions on the debates dominating Washington's attention.

While Democrats are generally unified on immigration -- denouncing President Donald Trump's proposed border wall and arguing that the money could be better spent elsewhere -- fractures are forming around Medicare-for-all proposals and the "Green New Deal."

The two progressive favorites have faced some pushback from the field's centrists who believe that their aims could be achieved alongside private insurance or in a more incremental fashion, respectively.

Here's the weekly candidate roundup:

Feb. 8-14, 2019

Stacey Abrams (D)

Abrams is visiting Washington on Friday where she will deliver a speech at the Democratic National Committee's Winter Meeting and participate in a discussion about race and political power in the United States at the Brookings Institution.

Michael Bennet (D)

The Colorado senator hinted at a presidential run during an appearance on NBC's Meet the Press Sunday.

"We've got a million people that are going to run, which I think is great," he said, adding, "I think having one more voice in that conversation that's focused on America's future, I don't think would hurt."

Bennet discussed his diverse professional background as one of the ways he was different than the field's current candidates, explaining that he had a "different set of experiences than the other folks in the race," citing his time in business and as Denver Public Schools superintendent.

On policy, he joined many Democrats in supporting a health care public option, but broke from Sen. Kamala Harris in saying that such a plan did not necessarily mean that private insurance should be eliminated.

Joe Biden (D)

The Washington Post reported Thursday that Biden is still undecided about a presidential campaign, noting that he originally intended to decide by the end of 2018 but that the self-imposed deadline continues to be pushed back.

On Wednesday, CNBC wrote that Biden is signaling to several Democratic donors that he is leaning toward joining the presidential field but that his decision is not yet final.

The former vice president eulogized the late Rep. John Dingell on Tuesday, saying that the long-time Michigan congressman was one of only a few people he "looked up to."

"He gave me confidence. He made me believe more in myself more than I had," Biden said. "John had that special capacity to do so. Because when you are with him, you knew you were with greatness."

Michael Bloomberg (D)

The billionaire former New York City mayor is prepared to spend at least $500 million during the presidential campaign cycle to defeat President Trump, Politico reported Wednesday.

"That'll get us through the first few months," said Kevin Sheekey, one of Bloomberg's top aides, noting that Bloomberg put $100 million into his last mayoral election.

Cory Booker (D)

Booker visited Iowa and South Carolina during his first weekend on the campaign trail as a declared presidential candidate.

In Iowa, the New Jersey senator continued to pitch his theme of unity and optimism to voters, while in South Carolina he addressed racial discrimination, saying that the country needed a leader who is "telling the truth about racism, not participating in racist statements, demeaning and degrading people like we're seeing now."

In an interview with MSNBC Tuesday, Booker said that if he wins the Democratic nomination, he will "be looking to women first" when he considers a running mate.

"I believe there should be a woman president right now and I worked very hard to get one," he said of his time campaigning for Hillary Clinton, who considered him to be her running mate in 2016.

"We have such a great field of leaders. I think that you will rarely see a Democratic ticket anymore without gender diversity, race diversity," Booker said. "I think it's something that we should have."

This weekend, Booker visits New Hampshire for six events across the state from Saturday through Monday.

Sherrod Brown (D)

Brown said that he's "not ready to jump" into the presidential race during a Christian Science Monitor breakfast Tuesday. But he has given himself a March deadline to come to a "joint decision" with his wife, journalist Connie Schultz.

The Ohio senator rolled out two bills Wednesday with Democratic colleagues on Capitol Hill: One, a "cost-of-living refund," which would double the Earned Income Tax Credit, and a second that would lower the Medicare eligibility age to 50, allowing people at that age to buy in voluntarily.

Steve Bullock (D)

The Montana governor will visit Iowa this weekend as Politico reports that he is approaching a decision about a presidential campaign. Bullock has said that he is unlikely to make any public announcement about a campaign until later in the spring following Montana's state legislative session.

Pete Buttigieg (D)

The mayor of South Bend, Indiana joined MSNBC's Morning Joe Thursday morning for a lightning round of questions on where he sits on the ideological spectrum, from the late-term abortion law passed in New York and Virginia, to American capitalism.

"I consider myself a pretty strong progressive but I don't consider the left center spectrum to be the most useful way to look at our politics right now," he said.

Last weekend, Buttigieg made his first trip to Iowa since announcing his presidential exploratory committee, during which he shared his support for Medicare-for-all and the "Green New Deal," while continuing to play up his military background and executive experience as mayor of South Bend in response to questions about his youth.

In an interview with New York Magazine, Buttigieg expanded on how his local experiences could translate in Washington, D.C., comparing South Bend's sewer system to more headline-grabbing issues.

"They're so important that we make sure they work basically all of the time. Which is why you never think of them — that's kind of the point," he said. "But it's not that different from national security. It's like I say, people experience the more freedom the less they think about it."

In both the New York Magazine story and an interview with CNN, Buttigieg was critical of Vice President Mike Pence's social views, saying to CNN that "politically [Pence] is a fanatic and he damaged our city and our state through choices that his social extremism led him to make."

Julian Castro (D)

Castro downplayed the idea that he is the Latino presidential candidate in a CNN interview Saturday, acknowledging that it had "special meaning" for the Latino community but that his message was intended to be all-encompassing.

"I'm also aware that I have to have policy proposals and a vision that includes everybody," said Castro, who acknowledged that being relatively unknown could be viewed as an "opportunity" in the race. Castro was also the secretary of Housing and Urban Development in the Obama administration.

Politico noted Thursday that while Castro remains the only Latino candidate in the 2020 field, only one member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus -- his brother Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas) -- has endorsed his campaign.

Bill de Blasio (D)

De Blasio was scheduled to visit New Hampshire Friday, renewing speculation that the New York City mayor was contemplating a presidential campaign. But he cancelled the trip after a New York City police detective was killed during a robbery Tuesday night.

John Delaney (D)

The former Maryland congressman and first major entrant into the 2020 race spent the first half of the week in New Hampshire, his 14th trip to the state, where he opened an office in Manchester and attended a "Politics and Eggs" breakfast at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics -- one of 10 events in three days.

Delaney broke with several other Democratic presidential contenders by revealing he was opposed to the proposed "Green New Deal."

"The reason is that I want to do something about fixing climate change tomorrow. I don't want to tie it to fixing health care," he said, while still complimenting Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), who proposed the idea.

Tulsi Gabbard (D)

During her first visit to Iowa as a presidential candidate, the Hawaii congresswoman and National Guard Major touted her dedication to service and outlined her views on foreign policy, responding to criticism over her recent comments about Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, labeling him a "brutal dictator" but stating that she didn't feel the United States should be "the world's police."

Kirsten Gillibrand (D)

Gillibrand toured South Carolina, with seven stops across the state, from Friday through Sunday, including meetings with Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin, who leads the National Conference of Mayors, and a group of women leaders.

The New York Times highlighted Gillibrand's "feminist campaign" Tuesday, describing how advocacy for women has already become a centerpiece of her candidacy and one that differentiates her from fellow female Sens. Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren thus far.

This weekend, Gillibrand is again visiting New Hampshire for a collection of meet-and-greets, walking tours and town halls, after having traveled to the Granite State just two weeks ago.

Kamala Harris (D)

Harris attracted a number of headlines Monday after she admitted during a New York radio interview to having smoked marijuana in college.

"I did inhale," the California senator said. "It was a long time ago, but yes."

The remarks came during a larger discussion about marijuana, during which Harris said it was "not true" that she opposes its legalization, joking that "half my family's from Jamaica." She stated her support for legalization but noted her "concerns," saying its effects on users should be researched.

John Hickenlooper (D)

The former Colorado governor visited New Hampshire Wednesday and Thursday and said he's going to decide on a presidential run in the next "six weeks."

During his stop at a Manchester house party, Hickenlooper joked about his unusual surname and how it taught him in his childhood how to "deal with bullies" -- a reference to how he would approach running against President Donald Trump.

Hickenlooper added that he still wants to learn more about the "Green New Deal" and criticized Trump's proposed southern border wall while also acknowledging that there are "border security issues" to solve.

Eric Holder (D)

Following a speech at Drake University in Iowa Tuesday, Holder, the former U.S. attorney general, said he would reach a decision on a presidential run in the next three to four weeks.

"I'm concerned about the direction of the country," Holder said. "I think I've got some ideas and visions that I think would be useful to the nation."

On the issues, Holder said during the Iowa visit that the U.S. was "at a point where we should think seriously about [marijuana] legalization" and said he supports the "Green New Deal," labeling it "our generation's moonshot."

Amy Klobuchar (D)

Klobuchar launched her presidential campaign Sunday during a snowy outdoor event in Minneapolis, at which she outlined her humble political roots and described her motivations for getting into the race.

"I'm running for every parent who wants a better world for their kids," she said. "I'm running for every student who wants a good education. For every senior who wants affordable prescription drugs. For every worker, farmer, dreamer, builder. For every American. I'm running for you."

In a subsequent appearance Monday on ABC News' Good Morning America, the Minnesota senator defended herself against allegations that she was abusive toward her Senate staff, conceding that she is "tough" and "push[es] people," but it was because she holds "high expectations."

She further mocked the president after he, referring to her kick-off rally, tweeted that it was "bad timing" that she was "talking proudly of fighting global warming while standing in a virtual blizzard of snow, ice and freezing temperatures."

"I'm sorry if it still snows in the world," Klobuchar said on Good Morning America Monday. "But the point is that we know climate change is happening."

Next Monday, Klobuchar will participate in a CNN town hall in New Hampshire, then will travel to Iowa on Thursday.

Jeff Merkley (D)

Merkley is "still exploring" a run for president, he told Northwest Labor Press this week, and denied that his decision will be based on whether Sen. Bernie Sanders, who he endorsed in 2016, decides to run.

Seth Moulton (D)

After telling BuzzFeed News Monday that he is thinking about running for president, Moulton confirmed the sentiment publicly Tuesday during question-and-answer sessions following a foreign policy speech at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C.

"I'm thinking about running for president," Moulton said in the BuzzFeed interview. "I'm not definitely running, but I'm going to take a very hard look at it. A very serious look at it. Because I believe it's time for a new generation of leadership, and we gotta send Donald Trump packing."

The Massachusetts congressman added that his decision will not be based upon who else launches campaigns, saying he doesn't "look at this as a horse race."

Beto O'Rourke (D)

As Trump held a campaign rally across town, O'Rourke defended his hometown of El Paso, Texas, during a protest march Monday, criticizing the president for his inflammatory rhetoric regarding immigration.

"We are making a stand for the truth, against lies and hate and ignorance and intolerance," O'Rourke said. "El Paso has been the safest city in the United States of America not in spite of the fact that we're a city of immigrants but because we are a city of immigrants."

During Trump's event, he used the El Paso setting to discuss the former Texas congressman, referring to him as "a young man who's got very little going for himself, except he's got a great first name."

Politico reported Wednesday that O'Rourke met with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) to discuss a possible run for Senate against Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) in 2020.

Tim Ryan (D)

Ryan is "seriously considering" a presidential run, he said on CNN's Erin Burnett Outfront Wednesday.

The Ohio congressman, perhaps best known for his 2016 challenge of Nancy Pelosi to lead House Democrats, added that he doesn't "feel any pressure for any timeline at this point."

"The country is divided," Ryan said. "We can't get anything done because of these huge divisions that we have, and people in communities like the ones I represent… are suffering because of this division. You can't win the future divided."

Bernie Sanders (D)

Sanders is leaning towards announcing a presidential campaign by the end of February, Fox News reported Thursday, citing two sources close to the Vermont senator.

Earlier in the week, amid the controversy that engulfed Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., over a tweet interpreted to be anti-Semitic, Sanders called the freshman congresswoman to offer his support, The Daily Beast reported.

Howard Schultz (I)

The former Starbucks CEO continued to face criticism from Democrats over his potential independent bid for president and Schultz returned the favor, discussing his misgivings with both Democrats and Republicans at a CNN town hall Tuesday.

"Both parties today on the far left and the far right are more interested in partisan politics, revenge politics," Schultz said. "I think we could be doing so much better than we are."

During the event, Schultz acknowledged that his "business experience is not qualification to run for president," but argued that he could bring a pragmatic, results-focused approach to combating problems like climate change and economic inequality.

Elizabeth Warren (D)

Sen. Warren officially jumped into the 2020 race, announcing her candidacy for president at a rally in Lawrence, Massachusetts, last Saturday.

Before a crowd of 3,500 supporters packed into Everett Mills -- the site of one of the most famous labor strikes that catalyzed massive changes to labor rules -- Warren said, "Millions and millions and millions of American families are also struggling to survive in a system that has been rigged by the wealthy and the well-connected. Hard-working people are up against a small group that holds far too much power ... Like the women of Lawrence, we are here to say enough is enough!"

"The fight to build an America where dreams are possible, an America that works for everyone. I am in that fight all the way," she continued.

Warren took the stage to Dolly Parton's "9 to 5," before making her official announcement and kicking off a seven-state tour through several early voting states. She made her debut as a presidential candidate in Dover, New Hampshire, before heading to Iowa on Sunday. She continues on to South Carolina, Georgia, Nevada and California this weekend.

Bill Weld (R)

Weld, the former governor of Massachusetts and 2016 Libertarian vice presidential candidate, is attending a New Hampshire Institute of Politics "Politics and Eggs" event on Friday.

WMUR-TV reported Wednesday that Weld's remarks at the event will include a "substantial move towards a challenge to President Trump," citing Republican sources. Weld recently re-registered in Massachusetts as a member of the Republican party.

Marianne Williamson (D)

Williamson, a popular self-help author and one-time congressional candidate, was profiled by ABC News' Nightline this week, where she explained her desire to get into the presidential race, despite her lack of political experience.

"I think what we need in the White House is more a visionary than just a political mechanic," she said. "America is morally off course ... More than anything else in America today, we need a moral and spiritual awakening."

"We need an awakening of American minds," Williamson added. "Show me any traditional politician who's had a 35-year career at that kind of awakening. That's a skill set. That's experience. That's expertise. And I believe it is a qualification that would -- you would do very well to put in the White House."

Andrew Yang (D)

Yang is spending his own money to demonstrate his proposed "Freedom Dividend," a form of universal basic income that would pay all Americans 18 years or older $1,000 per month. One family each in Iowa and New Hampshire are already receiving $1,000 per month from the entrepreneur, according to CBS News.

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VallarieE/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- The spending bill agreed to this week by lawmakers contains several provisions that would change immigrant arrest protocols, detention standards and, of course, address the issue of President Donald Trump’s desired border wall.

Trump is expected to sign the bill on Friday.

Here’s what each side got out of the deal to keep the government from shutting down again:

Border barrier security

The two sides agreed to pay for 55 new miles of “physical barriers” along the southern border at a cost of $1.375 billion. This is far from the $5.7 billion Trump wanted, but it's more than many Democrats wanted, too. As part of the agreement, money can only be used for previously agreed to barrier designs -- which past administrations called “fencing.”

A White House spokeswoman says Trump is preparing to declare a national emergency to divert funds from elsewhere to build more of the wall.

Keeping border barrier funding lower is largely a win for Democrats, but it didn’t satisfy all of them. Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and other progressives voted against the bill Thursday, saying it gave too much funding for immigration enforcement.

"By any reasonable measure, Donald Trump’s weaponization of ICE and CBP has been a failure,” Ocasio-Cortez and other Democrats said in a joint statement Thursday. “The Department of Homeland Security does not deserve an increase in funding, and that is why we intend to vote no on this funding package.”

The bill provides funding for 800 new Customs and Border Protection officers, increasing the total budget of U.S. Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement by nearly $1.5 billion.

Stopping ICE from targeting unaccompanied children sponsors

Democrats successfully pushed to block ICE from targeting immigrants who come forward to house unaccompanied children.

Last year, ICE said it arrested 170 immigrants based on information those people submitted for background checks that would allow them to take in unaccompanied minors.

The new funding deal would work to stop ICE from using that information to arrest sponsor applicants in the future.

In explaining how they previously carried out those arrests, ICE suggested that sponsoring migrant children would prompt others to make the dangerous journey to the southern border.

“Encouraging or inducing an alien to come to the United States ... only enriches transnational smuggling organizations that undermine U.S. border security efforts,” the agency said in a December 2018 statement.

Attempts to stop detention center expansion

Democrats also fought for a provision that's expected to bring down the capacity of ICE detention facilities at least through September.

However, ICE could still divert funds from elsewhere in the agency, allowing them to exceed the cap set in the funding deal. Immigrant advocates don’t support this flexibility and strongly oppose detaining any migrants that aren’t a public safety threat.

Sarah Pierce, a policy analyst with the Migration Policy Institute, told ABC News the bill gives ICE a “free ticket” to increase detention space.

“I’m very surprised that the Democrats are going along with these provisions as written,” Pierce said.

Inspecting detention centers

In what could be described as another win for Democrats, the bill includes a provision to keep DHS from using their new funding to block members of Congress from inspecting detention centers that hold kids.

It would also prevent facilities from making temporary changes for the duration of an inspection to hide how they normally operate.

Democrats have strongly criticized detention centers and have announced new legislation to close the temporary shelters where DHS sends migrant kids who cross the border alone.

“This policy of the way we’re treating migrant families awaiting asylum hearings is coming from a very dark and evil place in the heart of this administration and we have to end it in every single form,” Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., said on Capitol Hill last week.

Urging CBP to report progress on humanitarian requirements

In a win for Democrats, an accompanying directive of the bill says CBP should report its progress on implementing various health and safety measures for migrants in detention.

The provision, secured by the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, specifies that CBP should “ensure [migrant holding] facilities are humane and used appropriately.”

After a significant increase of families crossing the U.S. southern border in recent months, CBP announced they would regularly check medical histories and record health information from more people in their custody.

The deaths of two children in CBP custody last year raised questions of whether the Trump administration adequately prepared for the influx of migrants.

The negotiations over these individual provisions don’t amount to anything close to the comprehensive reform that experts, advocates and judges say is the only way to solve many of the issues raised in the funding battle between Democrats and Republicans this week.

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RoschetzkyIstockPhoto/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- While the White House announced the president agreed to a deal Thursday to avoid a second federal government shutdown this year, the impact of the first, the longest in U.S. history, and the anxiety of potentially a second, have had deep and lasting impacts on the State Department and American foreign policy.

In particular, several officials and outside experts told ABC News, concerns remain over department morale, the finances of diplomats and their families deployed overseas, and the recruitment and retention of top talent.

While certain things have improved under Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, they said, there still are deep challenges at State that were exacerbated by the shutdown.

"What it said to many people is, our work is not valued, our contributions are not wanted, why should I work in a place that doesn't care about what I do -- whether I come to work or not?" said retired Ambassador Nancy McEldowney, who directed the department's training center, the Foreign Service Institute.

During the shutdown, approximately one-quarter of American employees overseas and 40 percent in the U.S. were furloughed, according to a State Department spokesperson.

Those working on "the protection of the United States' critical national security interests and the safety of U.S. citizens abroad," per the department, were excepted and required to work without pay.

Even then, these individuals faced restrictions on travel, public outreach like meetings or events, or signing new contracts. That meant the work of real diplomacy, in many ways, had to be put on hold, which McEldowney called "phenomenally disruptive on every level and expensive."

"We got turned into a laughing stock," said a veteran ambassador, who requested anonymity to speak candidly.

That included open jabs at diplomats overseas, including "care packages" from Russian officials and a fake GoFundMe page to donate to U.S. diplomats in an African country, the veteran ambassador said.

The record-long shutdown also poses a long-term threat to the department's ability to find and retain top talent, retired and current officials told ABC News, because of how it affected morale.

One official in Washington dismissed that, saying it wasn't the department's first shutdown, and at this point department employees should know how to handle them. But others expressed concerns about how long the administration allowed the shutdown to continue, compounding financial troubles for diplomats and their families and sending a message of disregard for their work.

"There was such a heartless and staggeringly unaware approach from a number of senior administration officials," said McEldowney, including President Donald Trump's remark that the shutdown could last for months or years.

"The mission itself was just gutted and eroded," said the veteran ambassador, who added that's what drives diplomats to do their work. "A big part of what makes us tick is the enormous pride and joy in the mission."

But the State Department pushed back, with deputy spokesperson Robert Palladino telling ABC News in a statement: "The entire State Department team showed remarkable resilience and commitment during the lapse in appropriation. Secretary Pompeo has expressed his sincerest gratitude to our employees for their dedication and sacrifices."

"He is proud of the work we did -- and do every day -- to deliver on our mission and advance the interests of the American people both here at home and around the world," Palladino said.

Still, damage was evident in some data. There was a near 60 percent increase in federal employees at agencies affected by the shutdown indicating they were open to a new job, according to LinkedIn. And a month into the shutdown, the number of applications to jobs at affected agencies dropped by 46 percent compared to last year, according to Glassdoor.

"There's no question the shutdown had devastating consequences for talent in our government... It's a morale cutter. There's nothing worse you can do to a mission-based work force than say you can't do your job," said Max Stier, president and CEO of the Partnership for Public Service, a nonpartisan group advocating for improving the federal workforce.

A White House memo to federal agencies even included the issue among a checklist for managers to review when reopening offices: "Consider employee morale impacts."

Another indicator of trouble critics point to is the decline in Americans taking the Foreign Service Officer Test. In fiscal year 2018, 8,685 people took the exam, about one-third lower than the final fiscal year fully under the Obama administration when 12,666 people did. That's also down from a high of 22,281 in fiscal year 2010, according to State Department data.

"The number of people taking the test is one of key metrics of the health of the organization. To see a number this low is an indicator flashing red on your dashboard," said the veteran ambassador, who added it "took my breath away."

Critics attribute that drop in large part to former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who's accused of gutting the department in an effort meet the severe budget cuts demanded by the Trump administration.

"We are seeing an outflow of talent from the State Department -- new talent not coming in," Stier said. "You need a vibrant and capable State Department, and that's under threat."

But a State Department official pointed to the steady increases since Pompeo took the helm. The exam is administered three times a year, and there were 2,845 test-takers in February 2018 under Tillerson, with 3,134 four months later under Pompeo. In October, there was a minimal increase to 3,189, but last Saturday, 3,396 people took the test.

The official also blamed the highs and lows on fluctuations in the job market: When the economy is good, fewer people take the test than when the economy is doing poorly.

Critics agreed, but said the severity of the drop is most concerning.

"For the numbers to be cut in half in such a short period of time, that's dramatic and alarming," said McEldowney, now director of the Master of Science in Foreign Service program at Georgetown University.

Beyond any damage to U.S. standing or the department itself, diplomats said there were individual hardships, too -- struggling to pay medical bills or buy food.

"We suffered just like every other federal worker did, either being furloughed or working without pay," said a veteran ambassador.

Some department employees turned to food banks.

While federal workers in the U.S. could work temp jobs, restrictions prevent Foreign Service officers deployed overseas from doing so. Although trained in local languages by the U.S. government, officers' spouses are not, creating a language barrier to overcome to find work, in addition to prohibitive permits and other paperwork.

Aja Harris, a mother of three young children whose husband is in the Foreign Service, told ABC News the various challenges have quickly added up. Originally posted to Moscow, they were among the U.S. diplomats expelled in April 2018 by Russia in a diplomatic tit-for-tat after spending little over a year there. They were then reassigned to Sweden, forced to move again after being relocated temporarily to Washington.

"We ended up getting in quite a bit of debt through all of that," Harris said in an interview last month.

While a second shutdown crisis has been averted, the possibility of another always looms, officials said.

"The fact that federal employees have to continue to have that sword over their head is debilitating," Stier said.

For Harris, it's part of the new normal of her family's life, what she affectionately calls "The Wandering Chaos" on her blog.

"We're pretty used to our lives being up in the air after living in Moscow for a year, but it's a new kind of fear because at least there, we were just going to be sent [back to the U.S.]," she said. "Here, you may not have enough money to feed your kids and family. That uncertainty is really hard."

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