Rep. Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona handed in her letter of resignation on Wednesday amid an outpouring of emotion and a thunderous standing ovation from both sides of the aisle just more than a year after she was shot in at a meet-and-greet event in Tucson that left six dead and 13 injured.
Giffords walked shakily to the well in Congress with the help of her friend and colleague, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., who tearfully read a letter from Giffords that expressed her love and appreciation of her constituents in southern Arizona for allowing her to serve them for the past five and a half years.
“Even as I have worked to regain my speech, thank you for my ability to be your voice,’’ she wrote to her constituents, adding that she did not “remember much from that terrible day.’’
As part of the tribute, the House unanimously passed a bill that Giffords had championed that focused on securing the nation’s southwestern border. The vote was 408-0.
“You will be missed ... but your legacy in this Congress and your leadership in this nation will not end here,’’ said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. “We salute you, Congresswoman Gabby Giffords.’’
Giffords, who is undergoing speech and physical therapy, also wore glasses during the tribute, as she lost half of her vision because of the shooting. Glowing and smiling throughout the ceremony, Giffords basked in the support of her colleagues, many of whom expressed admiration for her husband, former astronaut Mark Kelly, for his “steadfast support.’’ The names of the six people killed in the shooting were also read aloud and honored at the ceremony.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor praised Gifford’s inspiring strength and courage in the face of the shooting.
“I know I speak for all of us when I say that we are inspired, hopeful, and blessed for the incredible progress Gabby has made in her recovery,’’ Cantor said.
Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said he had trouble summoning the rhetoric “that all of us feel in our hearts,’’ but he compared her sacrifice on the fields of democracy to that of the soldiers serving in Iraq.
“Gabby’s beauty is in the heart, in the soul, in the spirit,’’ he said. “Gabby, America thanks you … for the example you have given in overcoming adversity.’’
Wasserman Schultz broke down in tears as she stepped up to the podium with Giffords, and she said that Giffords’s decision to step down from her seat in Congress to focus on her recovery was “just a pause’’ in her lifelong devotion to serving the 8th District of Arizona. Giffords will remain in Tucson, and she plans to return to public service some day, Wasserman Schultz said.
House Speaker John Boehner also struggled with his emotions as he wordlessly accepted the letter of resignation from Giffords, giving her a hug and a kiss on the cheek.
Wasserman Schultz said, “I am so proud of my friend, and 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."