‘I will return,’ Giffords promises
President praises lawmaker’s resolve during recovery
WASHINGTON – Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who came to symbolize hope and resilience as she tenaciously recovered from a gunshot wound to the head during the last year, announced she will resign from Congress to concentrate on her recovery.
Giffords, 41, announced her plans in a stylized video on YouTube and Facebook, and in a Twitter post. Her decision, effective this week, clears the way for candidates in both parties to stake a claim on her competitive border district. By state law, her replacement will be chosen in a special election.
“I have more work to do on my recovery,” Giffords says in the video, appearing in a crisp red jacket and without the glasses she has sported recently. She says she is doing what is best for the state.
“I’m getting better. Every day my spirit is high,” she says, speaking directly, deliberately and somewhat haltingly. “I will return, and we will work together for Arizona.”
Her announcement comes just over a year after a gunman opened fire while Giffords greeted constituents outside a Tucson Safeway on Jan. 8, 2011. Six people were killed, including a federal judge and a 9-year-old girl born on Sept. 11. Thirteen were wounded, including Giffords.
The alleged gunman, Jared Lee Loughner, has pleaded not guilty to multiple federal charges. Diagnosed with schizophrenia, he has been found incompetent to stand trial and is being held in a federal prison hospital as doctors try to restore his competency.
The shooting, and Giffords’ recovery with the support of her high-profile husband, now-retired astronaut Mark Kelly, turned her into a national heroine. When she made a surprise appearance on the House floor last summer to vote for raising the nation’s debt ceiling, she received a bipartisan standing ovation.
On Sunday, President Barack Obama praised her decision to resign as “selfless.”
“Over the last year, Gabby and her husband Mark have taught us the true meaning of hope in the face of despair, determination in the face of incredible odds, and now – even after she’s come so far – Gabby shows us what it means to be selfless as well,” he said.
Giffords, who is serving her third term, had earned plaudits for her congeniality and middle-of-the-road approach to lawmaking. She had until May to file for re-election.
Sunday’s announcement sparked an outpouring of support for the wounded congresswoman, as well as speculation about the timing and what it means for the race to replace her.
Democratic Party leaders were warned beforehand, and may have conferred with Giffords.
Kelly tweeted a photo of himself on the phone Sunday, saying, “Called some of Gabby’s friends & colleagues to tell them about her decision.”
Among those he alerted: House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., according to a Democratic source who asked not to be identified to describe a private conversation.
In a statement, Pelosi called Giffords a “true bright star – a dynamic and creative public servant.”
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, praised Giffords “for her service, and for the courage and perseverance she has shown in the face of tragedy. She will be missed.”
In Sunday’s video, Giffords talks about returning to public service someday. A close friend in Congress who is also chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, concurred.
“We will miss Gabby’s spirit in Congress … but I am confident that she will return to public service and we can all work together for America,” she said.
The weekend Giffords spent in Tucson for the anniversary of the shooting “crystallized” her choice, Wasserman Schultz said. Never one to settle for doing something “halfway,” she realized “she’d be doing neither thing full strength.”
“She’s at peace with the decision, as sad and wistful as she is about leaving public service,” the Florida Democrat said.
Giffords said in a news release she would finish the “Congress on Your Corner” event that was interrupted by gunfire.
“I don’t remember much from that horrible day,” she says in the video, “but I will never forget the trust you placed in me to be your voice. 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.”
She plans to attend Obama’s State of the Union address on Tuesday.