On the last day of her five years in Congress, U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords entered the House chamber to a standing ovation, then cast a vote for a bill she had co-sponsored, addressing smuggling on the U.S.-Mexico border.
House Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, kissed her after accepting her letter of resignation, effective at the end of the day. Majority Leader Eric Cantor, a Virginia Republican, praised the Arizona Democrat for her “courage, her strength and her downright fortitude after what could have been a life-ending bullet to the head.”
“We are inspired, hopeful and blessed for the incredible progress that Gabby has made in her recovery,” Cantor said.
“I am so proud of my friend,” Florida Democrat Debbie Wasserman Schultz said, wiping away tears and holding Giffords’s hand before reading the resignation letter aloud. “She will return one day to public service.”
Giffords wrote, “I have given all of myself to being able to walk back onto the House floor this year to represent Arizona’s 8th Congressional District. However, today I know that now is not the time. I have more work to do on my recovery before I can serve in elected office.”
Giffords 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. She is recovering from brain surgery and facial reconstruction and has required physical therapy to regain mobility.
Giffords’s husband, Mark Kelly, a retired astronaut and Navy captain, listened to today’s tributes from the House gallery. Cantor said a phone call from Kelly led to him scheduling the vote on the smuggling bill, H.R. 3801, for today. The measure passed, 408-0.
The bill would outlaw the use of ultralight aircraft used to smuggle drugs. Giffords’s congressional district includes part of Arizona’s southern border with Mexico. The legislation, which the Senate could clear as early as tomorrow, would subject violators to up to 20 years’ imprisonment and a $250,000 fine.