Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., will step down from Congress this week, almost exactly one year after she was shot at close range at a campaign event, she said in a video posted to YouTube on Sunday.
"Thank you for your prayers and for giving me time to recover. I have more work to do on my recovery, so to do what is best for Arizona, I will step down this week," Giffords said in the video, posted to her official YouTube channel and embedded below. "I'm getting better. Every day my spirit is high." As one of her last acts as a member of Congress, Giffords will attend President Obama's Tuesday State of the Union speech at the Capitol, her office said.
The announcement apparently leaves wide open the race for what will be a slightly realigned district representing parts of Tucson and southern Arizona. Giffords's office said in a statement that she will submit her letter of resignation later this week to House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Arizona's Republican Gov. Jan Brewer.
Since the next general election is more than six months away, the vacancy will be filled by a special election. Within three days of Giffords stepping down, Gov. Jan Brewer will issue dates for the special: According to Arizona law, a primary will take place between 80 and 90 days after the governor's proclamation, and the special general election will take place between 50 to 60 days after that. That would put the latest possible date of the special election around mid-June.
Redistricting made the swing district Giffords represents slightly more Democratic, but that is probably immaterial: Since the special election will fill the remainder of Giffords's term, observers in Arizona expect the vote will take place within the old congressional boundaries, even if the state's new congressional map goes into effect in the interim. It is possible the special election could piggyback on contests already scheduled, including municipal elections in March and the state's primaries in August, though March would most likely be too early.
Arizona has not had a congressional special election since 1991, when Democratic Rep. Ed Pastor was elected to replace Rep. Morris Udall, who resigned due to declining health.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., was among the first to react to the news, saying "Giffords has been a true bright star—a dynamic and creative public servant. Gabby's message of bipartisanship and civility is one that all in Washington and the nation should honor and emulate,” Pelosi said. Speaker Boehner also chimed in, saying in a statement "I salute Congresswoman Giffords for her service, and for the courage and perseverance she has shown in the face of tragedy. She will be missed."
President Obama said, in a statement released Sunday by the White House, said Giffords has earned bipartisan admiration.
Gabby Giffords embodies the very best of what public service should be. She’s universally admired for qualities that transcend party or ideology – a dedication to fairness, a willingness to listen to different ideas, and a tireless commitment to the work of perfecting our union," Obama said.
Although Giffords will step down this week, her office says her Arizona 8th District congressional offices in Washington, Tucson and Sierra Vista will remain open to help constituents until a new member of Congress takes office later this year. Giffords was first elected to the House in November 2006 and served as chairwoman of the Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee of the House Science and Technology Committee in the previous Congress. She also has served on the House Armed Services Committee.
Giffords was shot through the left side of her brain when a gunman opened fire as she met with constituents at a Congress On Your Corner event in Northwest Tucson. Six people were killed; 12 others, including Giffords’ staff members Ron Barber and Pam Simon, were wounded. Giffords initially was treated at University of Arizona Medical Center in Tucson. One year ago on Jan. 21, the congresswoman was transferred to a rehabilitation hospital in Houston. She was released in mid-June and since then, has continued a rigorous schedule of physical, occupational and speech therapy in Houston.