U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords blew a kiss to cheering colleagues as she began her farewell trip to Congress by attending President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address.
Two days after announcing plans to leave Congress to devote all her energies to continuing a miraculous recovery from a 2010 shooting that shattered her skull and her life, Giffords entered the packed House chamber to cheers and a standing ovation.
Two Arizona colleagues, Republican Jeff Flake and Democrat Raul Grijalva, greeted her with kisses and hugs and stood by her side as members of the House and Senate applauded the entrance of five Supreme Court justices, members of Obama’s Cabinet and the president.
They cheered again as Obama stopped to give Giffords a hug and kiss as he went to the podium.
After the speech, Giffords received embraces and handshakes from well wishers, including Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who came up to her seat before leaving the chamber.
It was only the second time that Giffords had attended a session of Congress since she was shot in the head on Jan. 8, 2011, by a gunman who wounded 12 others and killed six people, including a member of her staff.
Giffords plans to make tomorrow her last day in Congress. She announced that she’ll submit her resignation, effective at day’s end, and concentrate on continuing her recovery from brain surgery, facial reconstruction, and physical therapy to regain her mobility.
“What she’s done with her recovery, she can walk back into this public life of ours in a heartbeat,” said Grijalva. “It’s not an end. It’s a pause.”
Giffords’s husband, U.S. astronaut retired Navy Captain Mark Kelly, sat between Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden and the first lady, Michelle Obama, in the box reserved for presidential guests.
Obama brought almost two dozen guests. They included an Army sergeant, Ashleigh Berg, who has twice served in Iraq and whose husband, also an Army sergeant, is deployed with U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Other guests included Debbie Bosanek, Warren Buffett’s secretary at Berkshire Hathaway Inc. She was chosen to watch as the president discussed what he calls the “Buffett Rule,” to make sure the wealthiest taxpayers don’t pay a lower effective rate than middle-income earners.
Giffords, though, was the emotional draw for the lawmakers in the chamber.
Before leaving Congress the last time, Giffords will attend tomorrow’s debate on legislation to outlaw the use of ultralight aircraft used to smuggle drugs across the U.S. border from Mexico. Her congressional district runs along part of Arizona’s southern border with Mexico, which has been flash point over illegal immigration from a country riddled by drug violence.
The legislation, co-sponsored by Flake, would subject violators to up to 20 years imprisonment and a $250,000 fine.
The bill number is H.R. 3801.