Nearly a year to the day after a shooting melee in Tucson left Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., severely injured and others dead on Jan. 8, 2011, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi on Thursday telephoned Giffordss’ husband to wish the lawmaker well and express hope that she may soon return to the chamber.
But with just 11 months until the November congressional elections, it remains unclear whether Giffords will seek another term -- or be physically able to. Her team has yet to announce, or rule out, a reelection bid. But she has time to decide -- until as late as May -- under Arizona election rules.
“We look forward to welcoming her back, and, hopefully, that will be soon,” said Pelosi in describing the message she relayed to Giffords through her husband, retired astronaut Mark Kelly. Pelosi noted that she made the call as the anniversary of the shooting is approaching.
For the past year, Giffords has been undergoing physical and speech therapy in Houston. She had been holding an event outside a Tucson grocery store last year when a gunman severely wounded her in the head, and shot 18 others. Six people died.
Giffords spokesman Mark Kimble said on Thursday that plans are still on for Giffords and Kelly to attend a public candlelight vigil on Sunday evening in Tucson on the anniversary of the shootings, to remember the victims and their families. This weekend’s trip to Tucson will be the fourth time she has returned to Tucson since the shooting. Giffords previously flew back for Father’s Day, Labor Day, and Thanksgiving. She has also made trips to Washington.
Giffords’s public appearance on the anniversary of the shooting is generating some expectations. But Democrats in Arizona said on Thursday that there has been little communication about possible news concerning her congressional seat, and nobody within the state party is sure of what to expect.
Arizona election rules provide Giffords with several more months to make her decision. Petition deadlines for candidates are in May, and the state holds a late-August primary. Her district remains relatively unchanged by redistricting. What's more, close friends, including Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, have said that supporters are laying the groundwork for a reelection campaign, should Giffords decide to run.
Many believe that Giffords would easily win reelection. But amid “a lot of rumors swirling around,” one Democratic source said, no one really seems to know for sure what she will do. “There are some candidates on both sides of the political aisle preparing in case she doesn’t run, though, and I’d expect that they would announce almost immediately if she decided to not do it,” one state Democratic source said.
Pelosi gave little hint on Thursday that she knows what Giffords will decide. It was not clear why Pelosi was not able to speak directly to Giffords at any point during the call.
Pelosi said she called “to extend the good wishes of our caucus to Gabby, to hear her plans for the weekend as we observe the one-year anniversary of the tragedy."
Pelosi said that House members "look forward to welcoming" Giffords back. “But we didn't want the one year anniversary to go by without our own conversations internally and without acknowledging publicly the inspiration that Gabby Giffords is to our nation and how her idealism is an inspiration to all of us.”
Pelosi mentioned her call to Giffords during a press conference attended by about 25 other House Democrats. They are in Washington this week for 2012 strategy talks and are hoping to score political points by being seen as working while Republicans remain out of town during the legislative break.