Giffords' political future still uncertain
WASHINGTON – Like many Americans, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona was watching with a sense of disgust in recent days as lawmakers on Capitol Hill flirted with the notion of defaulting on the country's debt.
"Just get it done," she said aloud, according to spokesman, C.J. Karamargin.
She considered Monday's vote so momentous that she insisted on taking part in it, stunning colleagues when she walked into the House chamber for the first time since being shot in the head in Tucson last January.
"I think that 'just-get-it-done' sentiment is something a lot of people shared. That ultimately is what motivated her to go to Washington and participate in this historic vote," Karamargin said
Before the shooting, Giffords had twice voted against raising the debt ceiling in earlier years, but the final outcomes of those votes were not in doubt. She issued a statement after the vote that she could not take a chance that her absence this time around could prevent an increase in the debt ceiling and put the nation at risk of defaulting.
Giffords voted for the bill, which passed 269-161.
Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, who exchanged what she called "girl hugs" with Giffords on the House floor, said she did not encourage Giffords to come to Washington because she didn't believe the outcome would hinge on a single vote, as when Sen. Ted Kennedy, while battling a brain tumor, returned to the Senate floor in 2008 to cast a decisive vote on Medicare legislation.
"She felt so strongly about it that she wanted to come and we are really very, very proud that she did," Pelosi said. "It was a great moment. When the green light went up on the screen next to her name, it was a highly emotional moment for us."
Karamargin said Giffords met privately with her staff in Washington on Tuesday morning. She then left for Houston, where she is continuing to undergo outpatient therapy to help her recover from the shooting.
Arizona politicians are eagerly awaiting a decision on whether Giffords is going to seek re-election in 2012. Karamargin said Tuesday she wants to remain in Congress, but it depends on the progress of her recovery.
"Going to Washington to cast a vote that's absolutely critical to the country doesn't change the fact she still has work to do in her recovery," Karamargin said.
Whatever it said about her future in politics, Giffords' entrance, with just minutes remaining in the vote, added even more drama to a high-stakes day.
The Arizona Democrat responded to the attention with a smile, blowing kisses and mouthing the words "thank you" several times.
Surprised and joyful colleagues made their way through a cluster of Democratic lawmakers to greet Giffords. She used her left hand to greet some, but has had limited use of her right arm since the shooting.
Her hair was dark and closely cropped, and she wore glasses, a far-different image from the one Americans saw seven months ago when she was sworn in for a third term by House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio.
The latest financial reports show the Arizona Democrat with more than $787,000 in the bank at the end of June, thanks to friends and colleagues who have raised money to ensure she has the resources for a campaign.
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a friend of Giffords and chairman of the Democratic National Committee, believes Giffords will eventually return, but there is no indication of when
"She still has a long way to go in her recovery," Wasserman Schultz said.
On Jan. 8, Giffords was shot in the head in the parking lot of a Tucson grocery store while meeting with constituents. Six people were killed and 13 others, including Giffords, were wounded. The man charged in the shooting, Jared Lee Loughner, was sent to a federal prison facility in Springfield, Mo., after a federal judge concluded he was mentally incompetent to stand trial on 49 charges.
The vote marked the latest milestone in Giffords' recovery.
A month after the shooting, she showed her ability to communicate by asking for toast. She flew to Florida to watch her astronaut husband's space shuttle launch. She also had surgery to repair of a piece of her skull that had been removed, the reason for her very short hair. Giffords has been undergoing outpatient therapy in Houston since her release from the hospital in June. She made a visit to Tucson for a Father's Day celebration.
Ron Barber, another Giffords staffer who survived the shooting, said he was in physical therapy for his gunshot wound to the thigh when Giffords voted, but he tuned in when he got back to his Tucson home.
"I have to admit I wept," he said. "All of us who were with her that day are encouraged by her progress."
Associated Press writers Donna Cassata, Charles Babington and Alan Fram in Washington and Amanda Lee Myers in Phoenix contributed to this report.