Rep. Gabrielle Giffords returns to Congress to cast debt ceiling vote
Just seven months after a gunman’s bullet nearly killed her, Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords returned to the floor of the House of Representatives to cast her vote in favor of a bill to raise the nation’s debt ceiling.
She smiled as she entered the House floor, escorted by her good friend, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz. As soon as her congressional colleagues saw her, they lept to their feet, giving her a sustained standing ovation. It was a rare moment of unity amid a tumultuous, polarizing showdown between Democrats and Republicans over the handling of the nation’s debt ceiling.
Wasserman Schultz, Chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, was one of the few people who knew in advance of Giffords’ plans.
“At the end of the day, Gabby knew that this was probably the most important vote that we were going to cast in this Congress,” Wasserman Schultz said. “She wanted to make sure that her constituents were represented."
The bill passed the House 269-161. The next day, it passed the Senate and was signed by President Obama, avoiding what would have been the first default ever on the nation’s debt.
Gabrielle Dee Giffords was born on June 8, 1970, in Tucson. After earning her bachelor degree from Scripps College in 1993, she won a Fulbright Scholarship and went on to get her master’s degree in urban planning at Cornell University. In 2000, she was elected to the Arizona State House of Representatives on her first try for office.
Two years later, she became the youngest woman ever elected to the Arizona Senate. She easily won re-election in 2004 but resigned a year later to seek the U.S. Congressional seat being vacated Rep. Jim Kolbe. In a district that often favored Republicans, this self-proclaimed “centrist Democrat” won with 54 percent of the vote.
She was re-elected in 2008 and 2010, despite taking positions that often put her at odds with more conservative voters in her district. Her outspoken support for President Obama’s health care plan drew loud objections, and many Republicans considered her seat vulnerable in 2012.
The debate came to a halt at a Safeway grocery store in Tucson on January 8, 2011. Giffords was there for a “Congress on Your Corner” event. Suddenly, gunshots rang out. Jared Lee Loughner, 22, shot 19 people, killing four, including a nine-year-old girl. Giffords was shot in the head. For weeks, she clung to life, in critical condition. To save her life, doctors removed parts of her skull. No one was sure whether she would ever speak or walk again.
Yet, with her husband Mark Kelly at her side and with the steadfast determination that had defined her throughout her life, Giffords dedicated herself to her rehabilitation. While she still She speaks and walks haltingly, she has made miraculous progress in her recovery.
By the end of 2011, she had recovered enough to co-author with her husband, Gabby: A Story of Courage and Hope. In the book, she writes that the debt ceiling vote would not be the last one she casts as a Congresswoman.“I will get stronger,” she promised. “I will return.” However, on January 22, 2012, she announced that she would attend the State of the Union address but then resign from Congress in order to devote all her energies to her recovery. Her final appearance in the House was greeted with the same affection and admiration which greeted her the day she cast her vote on the debt.
To learn more about Gabrielle Giffords, read Arizona’s first Jewish Congresswoman with Attitude on Jewesses with Attitude.
Sources: “Gabrielle Giffords returns to Congress to Vote on Debt Ceiling Deal’” The Huffington Post, August 1, 2011; “Humor and Determination Key to Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords Recovery.” ABC News, November 14, 2011; Gabby: A Story of Courage and Hope, Gabrielle Giffords and Mark Kelly, 2011.
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Jewish Women's Archive. "Rep. Gabrielle Giffords returns to Congress to cast debt ceiling vote." (Viewed on August 7, 2020) <https://jwa.org/thisweek/aug/01/2011/gabrielle-giffords>.