A rare glimpse of bi-partisanship was seen today in the House of Representatives as Representative Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) officially resigned, slightly one year after being shot in the head at a “Congress on Your Corner” session in her native Tucson. Giffords, who resigned to devote her time to undergoing intensive rehabilitation, walked with a limp. With the guidance of her friend, Democratic Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), Giffords slowly made her way to the well at the front of the House chamber. Another friend, Representative Jeff Flake (R-AZ), held her hand. Wasserman Schultz praised her colleague’s strength. “I am so proud of my friend,” she said. “It will always be one of the great treasures of my life to have met Gabby Giffords and to have served with her in this body,” the Florida congresswoman said.
According to Giffords’ resignation letter, “Even as I have worked to regain my speech, thank you for your faith in my ability to be your voice. Everyday, I am working hard. I will recover and will return, and we will work together again, for Arizona and for all Americans,” she pledged to her former colleagues and constituents. Giffords, who has promised that she will return to public service when she is fully recovered from her gunshot wound, faces months – even years – of rehabilitation.
One of Giffords’ final actions in her five years in Congress was to vote in favor of a bill that she had co-sponsored and which dealt with smuggling on the United States Mexico border. The measure passed unanimously. The legislation outlaws the use of ultralight aircraft to smuggle drugs. Giffords’s congressional district includes part of Arizona’s southern border with Mexico. The legislation, which the Senate is expected to approve quickly, would subject violators to up to 20 years’ imprisonment and a $250,000 fine.
The session was emotional at times. Democratic Minority Whip Representative Steny Hoyer (D-MD) said “The House of Representatives of America has been made proud by this extraordinary daughter of this House, who served so well during her tenure here, who felt so deeply about her constituents and cared so much for her country. Gabby, we love you. We have missed you.” Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) was teary-eyed as he formally declared Giffords’ resignation.
Giffords’ husband, Mark Kelly – a retired Navy Captain and former astronaut – summed up his wife’s position. “She realized she was not going to run for re-election and this point the right thing to do was for her to step down,” Kelly said. “But I’m more optimistic than anybody else about her future. She just needs some more time, whether it’s a year or two years or three years, I’m very confident she’s going to have a long and effective career as a public servant.”
Writing in the Tucson Citizen, Carolyn Classen said that “There is a bumper sticker ‘Gabrielle Giffords continues to inspire’ which was placed at the Tucson three impromptu memorials that sprang up after the shooting. It was a testament of her courage and inspirational fight back to health, which is still ongoing (and the reason for her resignation). Because the Glock 9mm bullet entered the left side of her brain, Gabby’s right leg, right arm/hand, and speech were affected by the injury, and she now is working in rehab with her aphasia –speech & language difficulties — and reduced physical mobility. Prior to this shooting, Gabby was an avid hiker, and rode horses, a bicycle, and a motorcycle. But I know what a healthy, friendly, strong-willed individual she was as a politician and community activist, and I know she will work tirelessly now at age 41 to recover fully from her injury. She took a bullet in the line of duty as a U.S. Congresswoman and should be praised for her courage and resiliency, and hard work for over 10 years as a state & federal legislator.”
With Giffords’ resignation, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer is required to schedule a special election to fill the term. The primary is likely to be in April and the general election in June. The winner will then be up for re-election to a full two-year term in November.
Arizona law requires that the governor act within 72 hours to schedule a special election to fill a vacant U.S. House. According to Brewer spokesman Matthew Benson, the 72 hours begins Wednesday, January 25, at 5 p.m. because that is when Giffords’ resignation takes effect.