Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., resigned from Congress this morning, a little more than a year after being shot in the head at close range.
"This past year my colleagues and staff have worked to make sure my constituents were represented in Congress," Giffords wrote in her letter of resignation. "But If I can't return, my district deserves to elect a U.S. Representative who can give 100 percent to the job now."
Giffords slowly made her way to the House floor, walking with a slight limp as she was surrounded by the House Democratic leadership team, including close friend Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi. The room was silent as a small group of journalists captured the moment.
"Every day, I am working hard," Giffords wrote as she concluded her letter. "I will recover and will return, and we will work together again, for Arizona and for all Americans."
The moment carried great emotion as a number of House leaders paid tribute to Giffords.
Members shed tears on the House floor, and Giffords hugged her chief of staff, Pia Carusone, who has led constituent services since the congresswoman's injury.
Giffords' appearance on the floor was just the third since her injury. She returned Aug. 2 to vote in favor of the debt limit and attended President Obama's State of the Union address Tuesday night.
"I love Gabby Giffords," Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said. "Gabby's beauty is in the heart, in the soul, in the spirit. The House of Representatives of America has been made proud by this extraordinary daughter of this House, who served so well during her tenure here, who felt so deeply about her constituents and cared so much for her country. Gabby, we love you. We have missed you."
Giffords looked on as Hoyer paid tribute and responded, "and I miss you."
"We focus on her, she is our friend," Pelosi, of California said. "We look at her remarkable recovery with great pride. She also carries in her need for recovery, the sorrow of so many others who lost their lives.
"The apparent physical recovery that we see is something even more than we could ever imagine for the challenge that congresswoman Giffords has faced. God gave her a very special mission. He gave it to Gabby Giffords because he knew she could carry that burden because he had blessed her with so many, many gifts and a very loving family to make her the person that she is."
The Arizona delegation surrounded Giffords in the well of the House as Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., cried when she spoke, her arm around Giffords.
"I'm so proud of my friend and it will always be one of the great treasures of my life to have met Gabby Giffords and to have served with her in this body," Wasserman Schultz said. "We have all been through such a tumultuous year. The nation has been through a tumultuous year, no one more tumultuous than Gabby, and her family and her constituents in her beloved home city of Tucson, Arizona, and I know being able to be Gabby's voice today, that knowing her as well as I do, that the one thing that has not been said is that Gabby wants her constituents to know, her constituents who she loves so much in southern Arizona, that it has been the greatest professional privilege of her life to represent them.
"This is only a pause in that public service, and she will return one day to public service, to represent them, as she has so capably for the last five and a half years," Wasserman Schultz continued. "The most important thing to remember, no matter what we argue about on this floor or in this country, there is nothing more important than family and friendship, and that should be held on high above all else. And I will always carry that in my heart, and even though I know we won't see each other every day, Gabby, we will be friends for life."
"Yes," Giffords whispered.
"For life," Wasserman Schultz repeated as the two embraced.
Wasserman Schultz then read Giffords' letter of resignation on the House floor, as Giffords listened next to her.
Giffords then made her way to the speaker's rostrum where she handed House Speaker John Boehner her letter of resignation. Boehner, R-Ohio, cried as the two held hands and the entire House chamber cheered on with sustained applause.
The moment was also emotional for Giffords, crying as she walked off the rostrum, aided by Carusone and Wasserman Schultz.
Before officially resigning, Giffords voted in favor of her bill, H.R.3801 - Ultralight Aircraft Smuggling Prevention Act, which she introduced shortly before being shot Jan. 8, 2011. The bill, which amends the Tariff Act of 1930 to include "ultralight vehicle" under the aviation smuggling provisions, passed unanimously, 408-0, with 26 members missing the vote.
Giffords stood in the well of the House floor and welcomed countless colleagues as they hugged her and wished her well.