Gabrielle Giffords Returns to Congress for Debt Ceiling Vote

Aug 1, 2011 7:09pm

ABC News’ Jonathan Karl (@JonKarl) and Sunlen Miller (@SunlenMiller) report:

Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., returned to Congress tonight for the first time since being shot in the head in January, casting a vote in support of the compromise debt ceiling bill. 

"Gabrielle has returned to Washington to support a bipartisan bill to prevent economic crisis," read a message posted to Giffords' Twitter account while members began casting their votes on the House floor. 

Minutes later, Giffords slowly entered the chamber to loud, sustained applause and a standing ovation by her colleagues, who huddled around her to give hugs, kisses and handshakes. 

Vice President Joe Biden, with a big smile on his face, walked to the House floor and said, "I came to see Gabby, that's why I'm here."

In the hallway just outside, Giffords' husband Mark Kelly was all smiles as well. 

"It feels good," he said as his wife was casting her first vote since the tragedy. "Great actually."

“It was above and beyond the call of duty,” Democratic Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said of Giffords she was leaving the House floor today. “She’s a heroine … an inspiration.”

Pelosi said she had known Giffords was coming to the Hill for this vote for some time, but didn’t want to say anything until it happened. The two spent some time on the floor talking this evening.

“We had our girl talk. Had girls' hugs and all of that. So it was pretty thrilling, personally and officially,” Pelosi said. “She honored us with her presence.”

Biden ssaid he and Giffords, “commiserated about the steps of recovery.”

“She’s remarkable” Biden said. “Will matters. She is the embodiment of a strong, strong, strong woman. Think about what she’s been through. And think about her determination.”

Asked about any plans for Giffords to go to the White House, Biden didn’t rule it out but wouldn’t comment.

“It’s inappropriate for me to talk about her schedule,” Biden said.

Giffords spokesman C.J. Karamargin told Tucson Weekly in an email that "the congresswoman insisted on participating."

“Congresswoman Giffords has been following this debate closely over the past two weeks," she said. "Like the vast majority of Americans, she is extremely disappointed at Washington’s inability to confront the debt ceiling issue in a timely and thoughtful manner.”   

Escorted by her husband and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., Giffords exited the House floor slowly, giving a small wave to people as she left. She left the Capitol in an SUV shortly thereafter.

"It's been an emotional few hours," Wasserman Schultz told ABC News' Diane Sawyer on "World News." She said Giffords decided to make the trip to Washington because she "wanted to make sure that her district had a voice in this important vote."

Her appearance on the floor "melted even the hardest hearts," Wasserman Schultz told Sawyer.

"I've never seen more electricity on the floor erupt than when she triumpantly walked up those stairs," she said.

When Biden was asked about what he spoke with Giffords about, he joked, "She's now a member of the cracked head club like me."

The debt ceiling bill passed the House 269-161. The Senate will vote on the measure on Tuesday. 

ABC News' John Parkinson contributed to this report. 

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