I happened to be watching the vote on the debt ceiling bill, when the delightful images appeared of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords on the floor of the House surrounded by applauding and smiling Representatives. Below, in my original post, are my impressions of this wonderful moment—albeit rather short.
The Huffington Post, however, has more background and reaction on the event along with photos and a video. The following are some excerpts:
Giffords entered the chamber to sustained, standing applause, shaking hands with colleagues whom she had not seen since that January day. Her vote, a sideshow to the far more important and compelling personal drama, was in favor of the bill, which passed through the chamber by a margin of 269 to 161.
“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 statement from 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.”
Giffords’ office tweeted word of her return to Washington after the vote had begun. And as she showed up on the floor — smiling and with her hair cut short — the attention of lawmakers drifted from the vote tally to her presence.
After the vote was cast, Giffords received multiple additional rounds of applause, as House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) called her “the personification of courage.”
“Her presence here in the chamber as well as her service throughout her career in Congress, brings honor to this chamber,” Pelosi said. “Thank you, Gabby.”
Pelosi said she knew a Giffords visit “was possible” for a couple of days, but she urged the Arizona Democrat not to come unless she felt up for it.
“I did not encourage her to,” Pelosi told reporters. “I told her first things first. But she was very eager to come.”
Pelosi said she found out for sure that Giffords was returning from her chief of staff, John Lawrence, who is close with Giffords’ husband Mark Kelly. When she saw Giffords come in, she said no words were exchanged as they greeted each other. Just “girl hugs,” Pelosi said.
“Suffice it to say, it was one of the most thrilling moments to see this heroine return home, to the House. And to do so at such a dramatic time.”
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), one of Giffords’ closest personal friends and one of the people who escorted Giffords into the chamber, said she was beside herself when she heard the House erupt into cheers as Giffords walked in for the first time since the January 8 shooting.
“The reaction in the chamber was the most enthusiastic, exuberant, exhilarating — I mean we were all crying — thrilled — you know, we just knew she would make a triumphant return,” Wasserman Schultz said, becoming visibly upset.
Vice President Joe Biden came to the Capitol to see Giffords, after being tipped off by Pelosi that she would be in attendance.
“I told her she was now a member of the cracked-head club like me, with two craniotomies,” Biden told reporters. “You know what I mean? It was just so good to see her. But that’s a private conversation.”
Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) found out about her return about an hour before the vote and helped to escort her into the chamber.
Assistant Democratic Leader James Clyburn (D-S.C.) said he found out that Giffords would show for the vote when he saw her, hinting that Pelosi and others in the know played it close to the vest.
“I just said, ‘I love you, glad to have you back, great to see you,'” he said. “I only found out when I saw her. [It was] a little emotional.”
The House of Representatives has just voted and approved the debt ceiling compromise negotiated over the weekend by President Obama and leaders from both parties.
While this was a good moment and a good vote, one that at least may help our nation avert defaulting on its debt for the first time in its history—if the Senate approves the legislation—perhaps the most wonderful moment was when Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords appeared on the floor of the House surrounded by well wishers and under applause by the members and making a dramatic and emotional return to her place of work.
Giffords had just cast her first vote—Yes— in the House since the Tucson tragedy on January 8.
Congresswoman Giffords, who was shot in the head at point-blank range on that dreadful Saturday afternoon in Tucson, was smiling and looked well—a testament to the greatness of our medical system and to Gifford’s willpower, perseverance and sense of duty.
Whether Democrat or Republican, Americans must be thrilled and proud of witnessing this moment—perhaps one bright moment in what has been quite a dark chapter in American politics.