WASHINGTON – A dramatic vote to prevent the first financial default in U.S. history became even more dramatic Monday when Rep. Gabrielle Giffords made an emotional entrance to cast her vote.
It was Giffords’ first vote — and her first trip back to Washington — since the Jan. 8 shooting at a Tucson political event that killed six and wounded 13, including Giffords, D-Tucson.
Giffords’ appearance in the House was greeted with a standing ovation by a packed chamber, as lawmakers were on hand Tuesday evening for the Budget Control Act of 2011.
Accompanied by Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., and House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, Giffords could be seen waving to onlookers and appearing to say “thank you,” clutching something for balance as she walked over to cast her first vote since the shooting. The ovation lasted well over a minute.
Giffords was one of only two Arizona representatives to vote yes on the bill, along with Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Flagstaff. Her vote did not affect the outcome on the bill, which passed by a comfortable margin of 269-161.
But the vote was almost immediately overshadowed by Giffords’ surprise appearance as she was mobbed by colleagues on the floor and she recognized the outpouring of emotion.
Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., praised Giffords as the “personification of courage … admired throughout the country.”
“There isn’t a name that inspires more admiration, more respect, more of a desire for our daughters to be like her, than Gabby Giffords,” Pelosi said from the floor of the House.
Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Tucson, kissed Giffords and other members of the Arizona delegation, on both sides of the aisle, immediately took to Twitter to praise their colleague’s surprise return.
“Seeing @Rep_Giffords on the floor was very emotional for all of us. I hope she’s back for good,” Grijalva wrote.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., called it “excellent news” that “Congresswoman Giffords is back and voting tonight!”
Wasserman Schultz, a close friend of Giffords’, said on Twitter she was “so proud to cast my vote for the debt compromise alongside” the Tucson Democrat.
Giffords’ appearance was kept secret until just before she appeared in the House, when her staff tweeted an announcement about her return.
Giffords said in a subsequent Twitter posting that “the Capitol looks beautiful and I am honored to be at work tonight.” In a news release from her office, she said she was “deeply disappointed with what’s going on in Washington.
“I had to be here for this vote. I could not take the chance that my absence could crash our economy,” she said.
While her vote did not affect the outcome, her presence clearly affected the chamber.
“Both sides of the aisle greeted her with a loud standing ovation,” said Rep. Ben Quayle, R-Phoenix, in a statement. “It was a nice way to end what has been a very tense few days in the House.”
Nick Newman is a reporter for Cronkite News Service.