Gabrielle Giffords – The New York Times

 

Updated August 7, 2012

Gabrielle Giffords, a Democrat who had represented Arizona’s Eighth Congressional District since 2007, was one of 19 people shot at a meet-and-greet political event outside a supermarket in her hometown of Tucson.

The shooting suspect, Jared L. Loughner, a 23-year-old college dropout, was taken into custody at the scene, tackled by onlookers as he struggled to reload his semiautomatic weapon. He was charged with numerous federal counts, including the attempted assassination of a member of Congress.

In the attack, six people died, including a 9-year-old girl, Christina-Taylor Green, and a federal judge, John M. Roll; 13 people besides Ms. Giffords were wounded.

More than five months after the shooting, Ms. Giffords was released from a Houston rehabilitation hospital where she had been relearning how to walk and talk. Her remarkable comeback has stirred the nation.

In January 2012, Ms. Giffords announced that she would step down from office, saying she could not continue her recovery and still serve as a member of Congress. On Jan. 25, the House bade a tearful farewell as she submitted her resignation and was praised by members of both parties as an inspiring symbol of courage.

The evening before, at President Obama’s State of the Union address, Ms. Giffords was a focus of attention in her front-row seat. Among the dignitaries who greeted her were Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Mr. Obama.

On the day of her resignation, minutes after the tributes to Ms. Giffords, the House, by a vote of 408 to 0, passed a bill she had introduced to combat the use of small light aircraft in the smuggling of drugs and contraband across the border. She had been working on similar legislation for years.

Shooter Pleads Guilty and Gets a Life Sentence

On Aug. 7, 2012, Jared L. Loughner pleaded guilty to carrying out the shooting rampage that wounded Ms. Giffords. For the crimes he committed, he received an automatic sentence of life in prison. Mr. Loughner’s plea came soon after a federal judge found him mentally competent to admit to the crimes.

Under the terms of the deal brokered by his defense team and the prosecution, he will spend the rest of his life in prison, and be spared from a possible death sentence. The deal also means that victims’ relatives and the shooting’s survivors will not have to endure the prospect of sitting through a lengthy trial of uncertain outcome.

In a statement, Ms. Giffords’s husband, Mark E. Kelly, said they had been in contact with the United States attorney’s office as the negotiations over Mr. Loughner’s plea evolved.

“The pain and loss” caused by the rampage “are incalculable,” Mr. Kelly said. “Avoiding a trial will allow us — and we hope the whole Southern Arizona community — to continue with our recovery and move forward with our lives.”

Her Chosen Successor Wins in a Special Election

In February, one of Ms. Giffords’s top aides, Ron Barber, who was also wounded in the shooting, announced that he would seek her Arizona House seat in a special election in June.

On June 12, 2012, Mr. Barber, whom Ms. Giffords picked as her successor, defeated Jesse Kelly, a Republican, in a closely followed election seen by many political strategists as testing ground for the power of national issues in deciding competitive races.

Mr. Barber relied heavily on Ms. Giffords during the last stretch of the campaign to fill the six months left to her third term, banking on her popularity to help propel his candidacy. Mr. Barber, 66, and Mr. Kelly, 30, could run against each other for a full term in November — if they survive an August primary.

Talk of a Possible Comeback

Though Ms. Giffords resigned from Congress, she has not shied away from the possibility that she would one day run for office again. At the urging of her most fervent supporters and top advisers, Ms. Giffords appeared to be holding on to much of the nearly $1 million left in her campaign account, in order to leave the door open for a potential run for the House or the Senate in the next campaign cycle.

Much of the money in Ms. Giffords’s coffers came in after she was nearly killed in the shooting rampage in Tucson last year. Since her resignation, she has made no move to return the money to donors or turn it over to the county Democratic Party for use in the race to succeed her in Congress.

Even if Ms. Giffords does not run for office again, maintaining a formidable war chest could give her a chance to play political kingmaker — perhaps by choosing candidates to endorse or by donating a large amount of cash to the state’s Democratic Party.

Working Toward Recovery

 

Ms. Giffords is widely admired and liked in her state and the nation’s capital for more than her political smarts. Friends and associates describe her as the first person to arrange a party for a departing colleague, the one who would walk you across the Capitol complex to make sure you know your way, the person whom even former political opponents call a friend.

Since the shooting, she has undergone a series of operations, first at the University Medical Center in Tucson and later at the Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center in Houston. She began speaking a month after being shot. Ms. Giffords, an eloquent speaker before she was shot, is relearning the skill — progressing from mouthing words and lip-syncing songs to giving an interview in November 2011 to ABC News in which she demonstrated her improving ability to speak.

 

Ms. Giffords attended her astronaut-husband’s shuttle launching in May 2011. Her husband commanded the Endeavour shuttle’s six-man crew. The shuttle began a two-week mission to the International Space Station, the next-to-last mission in the 30-year shuttle program.

 

A few days after the launch, Ms. Giffords had surgery to restore a large piece of her cranium with a ceramic prosthesis and install a permanent tube to drain fluid from her skull.

Background

Known for her centrist views, Ms. Giffords was elected to Congress amid a wave of Democratic victories in the 2006 election. She is an avid equestrian and motorcycle enthusiast, repository of arcane health care data, successful Democrat elected three times in a Republican Congressional district, French horn player and wife of an astronaut.

Politically, Ms. Giffords is as passionate as she is independent. She is a longtime proponent of gun rights and tough border security — she once put out a news release ahead of President Obama announcing an increase of troops at the border. She also sided with motorcycle riders who favor state legislation to ride helmet-free, as she does.

But she was equally ardent in her support of the health care overhaul in 2010, and once told a reporter she was prepared to lose her seat to defend it. Ms. Giffords was widely considered as a strong future candidate for statewide office in a state where Democrats ride uphill.

Ms. Giffords, who has been an outspoken critic of Arizona’s tough immigration law, survived a tough re-election fight in November 2010 in part by stressing her strong support for gun rights and for tougher immigration controls, including tighter border security. She narrowly defeated Jesse Kelly, a conservative Republican, amid a general Republican sweep in the state.

Ms. Giffords, whose district covers the southeastern corner of the state, had faced strong criticism for her opposition to the state’s immigration law, which is focused on identifying, prosecuting and deporting illegal immigrants, and for her vote in favor of the Democrats’ health care law. Friends said she had received threats over the years.

In March 2010, after the final approval of the Democrats’ health care law, the windows of her office in Tucson were broken or shot out in an act of vandalism. Similar acts were reported by other members of Congress, and several arrests were made, including that of a man who had threatened to kill Senator Patty Murray, Democrat of Washington.

Political Career

Ms. Giffords was born in Tucson, graduated from Cornell University and Scripps College and worked in both economic development and her family’s tire and automotive business before entering politics.

She served in the Arizona Legislature from 2001 through 2005. After serving in the Arizona House of Representatives, she became the youngest woman ever elected to the Arizona State Senate.

 

Tapped by her party in 2006 to run for the House of Representatives, Ms. Giffords, helped by her connections within her district and a weak Republican opponent, prevailed, becoming the state’s first Jewish congresswoman and the third woman ever to represent Arizona.

Prior to heading to Washington, she was a member of the Arizona House and Senate. During her 2006 campaign, she stressed her ability to work across party lines, saying she had been a Republican until 1999.

In 2007, she married Mark E. Kelly, a Navy captain, making her the only member of Congress with an active-duty spouse. The two met in China, as young leaders selected by the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations, and have spent much of their relationship apart, due to their respective professional lives. Mr. Kelly has been an astronaut since 1996.

“The longest amount of time we’ve spent together is probably a couple of weeks at a stretch,” Mr. Kelly told The New York Times in an article that talked about their wedding. “We won’t always live this way, but this is how we started. It’s what we’ve always done. It teaches you not to sweat the small stuff.”

 

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