U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords, an Arizona Democrat, is quitting a year after being shot in the head, forcing a special election in a district that voted Republican in the 2008 presidential election.
Giffords said in a statement yesterday that she needs time to focus on her recovery from the brain injuries, and leaving now “is best for Arizona.” Giffords, 41, was among 19 people shot at a Jan. 8, 2011, constituent meeting outside a Tucson supermarket. Six people died. She was elected in 2006 and would have stood for election to a fourth term in November.
“I have more work to do on my recovery, so to do what is best for Arizona, I will step down this week,” Giffords, wearing a red suit and speaking slowly, said in a video posted on YouTube that also reviewed her career. “I’m getting better every day. My spirit is high. I will return and we will work together for Arizona and this great country.”
Arizona Governor Jan Brewer will set a date for a special election to replace Giffords in Arizona’s 8th congressional district, which takes in most of Tucson. The district voted for Arizona Republican Senator John McCain over President Barack Obama by 52 percent to 46 percent in the 2008 presidential election. Giffords, who won in 2010 by a 1.6 percentage-points, is one of 13 Democrats in districts that Obama didn’t win.
Obama praised Giffords for her “willingness to listen to different ideas” from constituents, which “brought her to a supermarket in Tucson last year -- so she could carry their hopes and concerns to Washington.”
“Gabby’s cheerful presence will be missed in Washington,” Obama said. “I’m confident that we haven’t seen the last of this extraordinary American.”
House Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, in a statement praised Gifford’s “courage and perseverance” after the weekend tragedy outside a supermarket in Tucson. “She will be missed,” Boehner said.
Representative Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the No. 2 Democrat in the House, said he is saddened she decided to step down. Her action “put her constituents first” by ensuring “her state and district are fully represented,” he said.
Doctors sent Giffords to a rehabilitation center near Houston two weeks after the shooting, where she had brain surgery, facial reconstruction and therapy to regain her ability to walk and speak.
Before she leaves office, Giffords will “finish her Congress on Your Corner event that was interrupted” by gunfire a year ago, holding a private meeting with some people who attended the 2011 event, according to the statement.
She will attend Obama’s State of the Union address Jan. 24, one of her last acts as a member, according to the statement.
Giffords surprised congressional colleagues in early August in an emotional return to the House to vote on raising the U.S. debt ceiling. She entered the chamber amid cheers that turned into a standing ovation.
After the Aug. 1 vote, colleagues and spectators in the packed visitors gallery greeted Giffords with a second standing ovation. She stood and waved. Democrats and Republicans rushed toward to greet her on the House floor, many hugging her. Her husband, astronaut Mark Kelly, was alongside her as she left the chamber.