She entered the chamber to spontaneous cheers, from the floor to the rafters.
“Gabby. Gabby. Gabby.”
Officially, the occasion was President Obama’s third State of the Union. But for lawmakers and dignitaries inside the chamber, it was as much as chance to listen to the president as it was to say goodbye to Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, the remarkable Arizona Democrat who survived a brutal shooting a year ago that left her near-death
(PICTURES: Giffords' Year of Recovery)
Giffords will resign her seat this week to focus on her recovery, but on Tuesday she stood on her own strength, an inspiration to her colleagues and the nation.
Flanked by one Republican, Rep. Jeff Flake of Arizona, and one Democrat, Rep. Raul Grijalva of Arizona, she greeted a procession of well-wishers with hugs, handshakes, the occasional fist pump and her unmistakable smile. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gripped her tightly with both hands. President Obama embraced her in a long hug, as they rocked back-and-forth, her head rested on his right shoulder. One colleague, Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, came bearing M&M candies.
From above, her husband watched the scene from his seat next to First Lady Michelle Obama.
(PICTURES: Scenes from the Capitol)
A year ago, few could have imagined such a scene, as Giffords lay in a hospital, shot in the head by a crazed gunman as she met with constituents in Tucson. Six people were killed that day. She returned to that same grocery store this week to finish the event that was so tragically cut short.
Attending the speech will be one of Giffords’ last acts as a congresswoman. She plans to vote on a final piece of legislation – a bipartisan bill to stiffen penalties on smugglers – before resigning Wednesday.
After the president had finished his speech, he began to weave his way out of the chamber. Two lines formed: One to shake his hand, one to shake hers.