POLITICS

Gabrielle Giffords: Giffords wants to return to work

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"She still has rehabilitation to go through, and a lot of recovery. So she's not ready to come back full time," said Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., a friend of Giffords and chair of the Democratic National Committee.

"But she wanted her district to have its voice here on probably the most important vote we'll cast this Congress."

Giffords exited the House chamber by the east door, leaning heavily on an aide as she walked with obvious difficulty. Her husband, astronaut Mark Kelly, accompanied her. Police had cleared a path through a mob of reporters, and Giffords did not respond to questions and greetings.

Near the doorway to the House, Vice President Joe Biden greeted Giffords and marveled at her return.

"She's remarkable. Will matters," Biden said in an interview. "She's the embodiment of a strong, strong, strong woman. Think about what that woman's been through, and think about her determination."

On Jan. 8, Giffords was shot in the head in the parking lot of a Tucson grocery store while meeting with constituents. Six people were killed and 13 others, including Giffords, were wounded. The man charged in the shooting, Jared Lee Loughner, was sent to a federal prison facility in Springfield, Mo., after a federal judge concluded he was mentally incompetent to stand trial on 49 charges.

In true congressional style, Giffords issued a news release after the vote - the only thing typical in an atypical day.

"I have closely followed the debate over our debt ceiling and have been deeply disappointed at what's going on in Washington," Giffords said in the statement.

"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," she said.

Pelosi said Giffords had decided to come for the debt-ceiling vote, something the House Democratic leader didn't learn about until Monday morning. The House's No. 2 Democrat, Steny Hoyer, learned about

Giffords' return just 30 minutes before she arrived. Wasserman Schultz said she found out that the congresswoman would cast her vote from a 2 a.m. text message she received from Kelly.

The vote marked the latest milestone in Giffords' recovery.

A month after the shooting, she showed her ability to communicate by asking for toast. She has made two trips to Florida to watch her astronaut husband in the shuttle launch. She also underwent surgery to repair of a piece of her skull that had been removed.

Giffords has been undergoing outpatient therapy in Houston since her release from the hospital in June. She made a visit to Tucson for a Father's Day celebration.

In Tucson on Monday, Pam Simon, a Giffords staffer who also survived the shooting, said she and everyone in her office huddled around the TV to watch the congresswoman's return to the floor.

"We were hugging and some of us were in tears and some people were shouting. It was very joyful," Simon said.

"We will be forever tied to that tragic event," she added. "Seeing Gabby there is just a wonderful step for us all."

She said she thought Giffords looked excited yet relaxed.

"Knowing Gabby, I know she is just so happy to be back among her colleagues," she said. "Didn't she look right at home?"

Ron Barber, another Giffords staffer who survived the shooting, said he was in physical therapy for his gunshot wound to the thigh when Giffords voted, but he tuned in when he got back to his Tucson home.

"I have to admit I wept," he said. "All of us who were with her that day are encouraged by her progress."

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