Obama Visits Giffords and Other Victims in the Hospital

By Cullen Dirner

Jan 12, 2011 8:10pm

ABC News' Jake Tapper and Sunlen Miller report:

TUCSON – After touching down here this afternoon, President Obama went straight to the University Medical Center to see Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, R-Ariz., and several other victims of Saturday's mass shooting at the hospital.

"The president wanted to begin this solemn trip by stopping first at the hospital where Congresswoman Giffords and others continue to recuperate,” White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said in a statement about the 45-minute visit led by Dr. Peter Rhee.

With first lady Michelle Obama, President Obama visited Giffords and her husband in the intensive care unit on the second floor of the medical center, staying for nine minutes.

On Tuesday, Giffords’ doctors told reporters that she was capable of breathing in her own, although they were keeping her on a respirator to avoid infection.

Her neurosurgeon said she has “no right to look this good” based on the severity of the injury from being shot in the head at close range, but cautioned that her recovery will be slow and, possibly, without much progress on a day-to-day basis.

Gibbs had no information whether Giffords’ was able to participate in the first couple’s visit.

The Obamas also met with four other victims of Saturday’s attack – including Giffords staffers Rob Barber and Pam Simon.

Afterward, at the McHale Memorial Center, the president and first lady met with the families of those who lost their lives in the shooting to extend condolences in person. With them were Attorney General Eric Holder, and Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., and John Barrasso, R-Wy.

In his speech tonight at the University of Arizona, the president also will pay homage to the six killed at the University of Arizona.

"The president will devote a significant portion of his remarks to the memory of the victims," Gibbs said. "He’ll also reflect on how all of us might best honor their memory in our own lives.”

Backstage at the speech they also visited three other groups – eight people injured and discharged, and their families, Giffords staff and former staff, and their families, and first responders and families of some of the heroes. Toward the end, Giffords staffer Pam Simon, who the president visited in the hospital, arrived at the event backstage and joined the Giffords staff for a photo with the president and first lady.

–Jake Tapper and Sunlen Miller

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