U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) made a surprise appearance to Congress on Monday to vote on the debt bill, just seven months after she was nearly killed in an assassination attempt.
The entire chamber rose to its feet – including the galleries – in a lengthy and bipartisan standing ovation. Giffords, who was shot in the head in January, looked steady as she returned to an explosion of applause on the floor of the House of Representatives.
She waved and said, “Thank you,” as colleagues cheered. “She smiled at me and said I love you, and it doesn’t get better than that,” Democratic whip Steny Hoyer (D-Maryland) told Politico.com.
The moment overshadowed the actual 269-161 passage of the bill. Giffords voted aye. “I had to be here for this vote. I could not take the chance that my absence could crash our economy,” Giffords, who still has trouble talking, said in a statement. “I am honored to be at work tonight,” she said on Twitter.
With Giffords’ support, the deal to raise the national debt ceiling passed the Republican-controlled House and will now go to the Senate Tuesday.
Lawmakers had tears in their eyes when they saw her, looking thin and drawn, but smiling broadly. Her bravery seemed like an antidote to the poisonous and petty political shenanigans of the last week.
Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi called Giffords “the personification of courage.” “Her presence today, as well as her entire service in Congress, brings honor to this chamber,” Pelosi said. “We are priviledged to call her a colleague.”
Vice President Joe Biden, a brain aneurysm survivor, greeted her on the House floor. “I told her she’s now a member of the cracked head club like me,” he said.
Giffords almost died when she was shot during a Tuscon constituents meeting on Jan. 8. Six other people, including one of her aides and a federal judge, were killed and 12 others were wounded in the attack.
The man accused of carrying out the attack, 22-year-old Jared Lee Loughner, has been diagnosed as schizophrenic and been ruled incompetent to stand trial.
She has had to re-learn how to walk and talk, has undergone epic brain surgeries and a chunk of her skull was replaced with plastic.
Until Monday evening’s electrifying entrance in the most-watched vote of the year, she had only been seen in carefully controlled photo-ops.
Giffords spokesman C.J. Karamargin said she had been following the debate over the debt ceiling – and like most Americans, didn’t much like what she saw.
“She is extremely disappointed at Washington’s inability to confront the debt ceiling issue in a timely and thoughtful manner,” Karamargin said in emails to the Arizona media. “The congresswoman insisted on participating.”
CNN reported the Democratic leaders in Washington did not know she would make an appearance until a few hours before. “It was remarkable to see her,” said Rep. Joe Crowley (D-Queens). “And I’m not surprised she was there for the vote. I admire the moxie it took for for her to be here.”
A good friend, Crowley was as surprised as most of the room. “When I heard the commotion. I thought it had to be the President – the hoot that went up,” he said. “She looked great, she looked fabulous.” [via The Telegraph (UK), NY Daily News]