WASHINGTON – Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, struggling to form the words in her first extended interview since a January shooting rampage, said Monday she will not return to Congress until she is "better."
"No. Better," she said in response to a question about whether she wanted to return to Congress.
As she gestured as if to help her form the words, her husband, former astronaut Mark Kelly, completed the thought: "She wants to get better."
At that point, interviewer Diane Sawyer also tried to get Giffords to summarize her mindset, asking whether she was thinking she would go back to Congress if she got better. "And that's where you're at right now?" Sawyer asked.
"Yes, yes, yes," Giffords replied.
Since the Arizona Democrat made a surprise appearance on the House floor this summer to cast a vote on the debt ceiling increase, there has been wide speculation about her career plans, including whether she would run for the state's open Senate seat.
The ABC interview showed a woman who appeared confident and determined, but still far from able to carry on a detailed conversation. She spoke in a clear voice, but in halting phrases: "Pretty good ... Difficult ... Strong, strong, strong," she replied to questions about how she was feeling and how she'd fared over the 10 months since the shooting.
The Giffords interview was accompanied by video Kelly shot documenting Giffords' recovery. The initial days and weeks showed her struggling to understand what had happened and to communicate in the most basic forms. She struggled just to learn how to nod, to raise two fingers. When her therapist asked what one sits in, she replied "Spoon," before later settling on "chair." Kelly said she used the word "cheeseburger" to describe several items.
Eventually, she learned to speak again and smile.
Kelly said he documented her recovery because he knew she would astonish her skeptics.
"Gabby Giffords is too tough to let this beat her," Kelly said.
Giffords has undergone intensive therapy. At times, despair set in. One clip shows her sobbing in her therapist's arms at Houston's TIRR Memorial Hermann hospitals.
"Can I tell you something? It is going to get better," her therapist said at one point. "You've come a long way in five weeks."
Giffords is shown becoming more upbeat and smiling more frequently in the ensuing months. She now walks with a limp and can talk, though she generally speaks in halting phrases, or repeats a word to get her point across.
At one point, Kelly used the work "brave" to describe the word on his mind when he thinks of her -- "brave and tough," he said. Then Giffords, looking directly at Kelly, responds almost in a whisper: "Tough, tough, tough" and she kissed his bald head.
Sawyer asked Giffords if she was ever angry about what happened to her. Giffords replied, "No, no, no. Life, life."
The television interview comes as fellow victims of the shooting came to Washington to testify in favor of a gun-control bill. They said that Giffords' appearance represents a major milestone for them as it helps them cope with the trauma they've endured over the past 10 months. About a dozen survivors and family members are in Washington lobbying for legislation that would extend criminal background checks to all gun sales and enhance the quality of the FBI's criminal background checks.
Ken Dorushka, who was shot in the arm as he shielded his wife, says the victims have become like close family members and would watch the broadcast together.
"Any time one of us has a success, it affects all of us and it helps our healing," Dorushka said.
The Tucson victims described Giffords' recovery as a miracle. Nancy Bowman, a nurse who was at the scene, said Giffords' recovery is a testament to her drive and courage.
"I don't think there's a single one of us who saw what happened to her who could possibly have believed that she could survive. I certainly never dreamed I would ever be able to experience Gabby Giffords on TV speaking to the country."
The man arrested at the shooting, Jared Loughner has pleaded not guilty to 49 charges stemming from the Jan. 8 shooting. He's being forcibly medicated with psychotropic drugs at a Missouri prison in an effort to make him mentally competent to stand trial.
In Monday's broadcast, Giffords and Kelly both expressed their concern that Loughner did not get the help he needed.
"If he had received some treatment, this probably never would have happened," Kelly said.