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Gabrielle Giffords’ Triumphant Return to the House

August 01, 2011
Gabrielle Giffords’ Triumphant Return to the House Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives Gabrielle Giffords, a rising star in the House Democratic Caucus who had just begun her third term in Congress, was nearly killed during an attempted assassination at a constituent event in Arizona.
On this date, nearly seven months after being critically wounded in a mass shooting at a constituent outreach event, Representative Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona returned to the House Floor to vote on a critical bill to raise the national debt limit. It was her first time in the House since her injury. Giffords had won election to Congress from a Tucson district in 2006 and was seen as a rising star on Capitol Hill, working to overhaul America’s immigration system and seeking investments in alternative energy. On January 8, 2011, a few days after the start of her third term in the House during the 112th Congress (2011–2013), Giffords was holding a meet-and-greet with constituents in a grocery store parking lot near Tucson when a gunman shot her in the head at point-blank range. Though Giffords was the primary target of the attack, the gunman shot 19 people, killing six. Those who died included congressional staffer Gabriel Zimmerman, a federal judge, and a nine-year-old girl. The shooting raised concerns about violence against lawmakers and prompted calls for civility in what had become a toxic national political discourse. During her recovery, Giffords had followed the debate over raising the debt limit, a legislative procedure which allowed the federal government to borrow money. On the day the House was scheduled to take up the measure, she and her husband, Mark Kelly, flew to Washington in time for the vote. After meeting with Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, Giffords walked into the chamber under her own power. Amid her surprise entrance, Members of both parties erupted in applause. Giffords made her way to a voting machine and voted “Yes” to raise the debt ceiling—one of a last-minute rush of votes to put the measure over the top. During the emotional moment, Members wept and embraced Giffords as she waved to the chamber. In a statement after the vote, Giffords explained that she had “been deeply disappointed at what’s going on in Washington. I had to be here for this vote. I could not take the chance that my absence could crash our economy.” That day Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi of California observed that “Throughout America, there isn’t a name that stirs more love, more admiration, more respect, more wishing for our daughters to be like her than the name of Congresswoman Gabby Giffords.”

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