In a historic moment, U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords received a standing ovation as she entered the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives Monday to vote in favor of a debt-ceiling increase.
Wearing a blue jacket and smiling, Giffords hugged colleagues as she prepared to cast her first vote since January.
In front of two televisions in her Tucson office, her staff wept.
“There was silence and sniffling. It was very emotional,” Giffords spokesman C.J. Karamargin said. “This is something people have been thinking, dreaming about for months.”
The 41-year-old congresswoman’s return to the nation’s capital marked the first time she’d been back to Washington since being shot through the left side of the brain in an assassination attempt in Tucson Jan. 8.
“I have closely followed the debate over our debt ceiling and have been deeply disappointed at what’s going on in Washington,” Giffords said in a written statement released by her office.
“After weeks of failed debate in Washington, I was pleased to see a solution to this crisis emerge. I strongly believe that crossing the aisle for the good of the American people is more important than party politics. I had to be here for this vote. I could not take the chance that my absence could crash our economy.”
In December 2009 and again in February 2010, Giffords refused to go along with an increase in the debt limit. But this vote on a bipartisan bill was substantially different, with the strength of the U.S. economy hanging in the balance, her office said.
The vote that took place Monday was regarded as the single most important vote taken this year by the House of Representatives. Giffords insisted on participating, Karamargin said.
The shooting injury affected the right side of Giffords’ body, and her right arm was bandaged when she made her appearance at the Capitol. Her normally shoulder-length hair was cropped short from her most recent brain surgery in May, and she was wearing glasses. Before the shooting, she wore contact lenses.
Karamargin said Giffords will be attending some NASA events in Washington with her husband, retired astronaut Mark Kelly, before she returns to Houston, where she is living at Kelly’s home and rehabilitating as an outpatient at TIRR Memorial Hermann Hospital.
Karamargin said there are still more steps Giffords must take in her recovery before she’ll be able to return to office full time, but that going back to her job as an elected official is her goal.
“She still has work to do, and she remains focused on her recovery,” Karamargin said.
After U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords made her surprise return to the House floor Monday, she was an instant Twitter trending topic. Actor Rob Lowe and CNN anchorman Anderson Cooper were among the tweeters.
Some of the tweets:
@RobLowe Rob Lowe
Congratulations to Rep Gabrielle Giffords on her heroic return to a body that very much needs her brand of sacrifice and guts. #Bravo
@kyrstensinema Democratic Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema
Repeated standing ovations for Gabby Giffords today — and a touching welcome speech from Democratic Leader Pelosi. #courage
@JeffFlake U.S. Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Arizona
Just greeted Gabby Giffords on the House floor. “Great to be here!” she said. I couldn’t agree more.
@andersoncooper Anderson Cooper
Wow, first glimpse of congresswoman gabby giffords! Great she returned to congress for the vote!
@hollyrpeete Holly Robinson Peete, actress
Maybe Rep. Gabby Giffords on House floor will get Washington’s priorities straight! twitpic.com/5zjtwa @Rep_Giffords #kumbayamoment
@SenJohnMcCain John McCain
Excellent news — Congresswoman Giffords is back and voting tonight!
Contact reporter Stephanie Innes at firstname.lastname@example.org or 573-4134.