Republicans won the vote, but Democrats stole the show when Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., appeared on the House floor for the first time since a January shooting.
There was no hint of what was about to happen, when suddenly, as the debt-ceiling vote was proceeding, Giffords could be seen being escorted onto the floor by Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., a close personal friend.
Giffords, wearing close-cropped brown hair and glasses, walked with a slight limp and wore a glove on her right hand.
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Giffords leaned into Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and the two touched their foreheads together for a moment amid thunderous applause.
Both sides of the aisle gave Giffords a minutes-long standing ovation as she made her way to her seat. Giffords acknowledged her colleagues with a smile, saying “thank you” into the roar.
Giffords' husband, Mark Kelly, smiled as he waited in the hallway outside.
Speaking on the floor, Pelosi called Giffords "the personification of courage, sincerity, and admiration throughout the country."
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"Her presence today to make sure we honor the obligations of our great country is important and symbolic,” Pelosi said. "We are all privileged to call her a colleague, some of us very privileged to call her friend."
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In a statement e-mailed by her office, Giffords said that she had been “deeply disappointed” by the gridlock in Washington as she watched the debt-ceiling debate unfold.
“After weeks of failed debate in Washington, I was pleased to see a solution to this crisis emerge,” Gifford said. I strongly believe that crossing the aisle for the good of the American people is more important than party politics. I had to be here for this vote. I could not take the chance that my absence could crash our economy.”
When Giffords cast her vote—a yea—Wasserman Schultz, who said she learned yesterday that Giffords would definitely be coming, whooped and pumped her fists.
This is first roll call vote since Jan. 7 that Giffords wasn't listed under "Not Voting."
As lawmakers and visitors continued to clap while facing Giffords and a stunned press corps looked on from the gallery, the yea votes suddenly surged, finally hitting 269. The vote was the last before the August recess, and the House seemed poised to leave on a good note after a particularly rancorous summer of partisan divide over the debt ceiling.
“It was spectacular, it really was,” said Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz. “It was spectacular. You forget any stitch of partisanship…It was the best moment to end on, you couldn’t ask for a better punctuation on the session.”
House Speaker John Boehner was informed that Giffords would be voting about an hour beforehand, and he greeted her in the hallway outside the chamber.
Members, including famed civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., wept at the sight of her.
One of the most emotional moments was when fellow Arizonan Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., gave her a kiss.
After the vote, a beaming Pelosi told reporters that she had known Giffords might come for a few days, but that she had persuaded her not to push herself.
The mood certainly felt different as lawmakers of both parties streamed out of the chamber after Giffords had departed to greet a grinning Vice President Joe Biden, who said he had returned to the Capitol to see Giffords. Biden had spent part of the morning and afternoon on the Hill selling the budget deal to Democrats.
Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., may have captured the change in tone best.
"Who knew that the budget bill would be the second biggest story of the day?” he said.
Giffords spent about 10 minutes in the chamber before meeting her husband at the doorway and departing in a waiting car.
After Giffords had left, it wasn’t long before the hashtag #WelcomeBackGabby started trending on the Capitol, from both sides of the aisle.
GOP Rep. Patrick McHenry tweeted, “Wonderful to have @Rep_Giffords back on the House floor tonight. A truly special moment. #WelcomeBackGabby.”
Billy House, Sue Davis, Ben Terris and Major Garrett