House Cheers Giffords' Return For Debt Vote

Rep. Gabrielle Giffords made her first appearance in Congress since suffering a head wound in a shooting in Arizona in January. She was on hand for Monday night's vote to lift the debt ceiling, and drew thunderous applause as she walked into the House chamber and cast her vote in favor of the bill.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

As it became clear the House would pass a debt bill that neither side really embraced, there was at least a feeling of relief. And then, something happened that brought an unexpected moment of joy. Walking unaided, wearing tennis shoes with a formal suit, Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords stepped into the chamber to cast her vote supporting the comprise. Suddenly after weeks of bitter debate, the House seemed to see its best self.

Here's Democrat Nancy Pelosi speaking just after Giffords entered.

Representative NANCY PELOSI (Democrat, California, Minority Leader): Throughout America, there isn't a name that stirs more love, more admiration, more respect, than the name of Congresswoman Gabby Giffords. Thank you, Gabby.

(Soundbite of applause and cheering)

MONTAGNE: NPR's Andrea Seabrook was there, as well. Good morning, Andrea.

ANDREA SEABROOK: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: You know, it was Giffords first time back in the Capitol Building since he was shot in the head at a gathering of her Tucson constituents last January. When did you first realize what was happening?

SEABROOK: I, along with the rest of Washington, was watching this vote, sort of ticking off the numbers. And suddenly, I saw all of these people in the House chamber standing and applauding. And at first I wasnt sure if it was because they had come close to the numbers they needed to pass this bill, but there was some genuine joy in this applause.

And then in the middle of this, sort of, group of people, you saw this blue jacket and this giant smile, and you realized that Gabby Giffords was back on the floor. It was just absolutely stunning.

MONTAGNE: What struck you most about the reception she received from her colleagues?

SEABROOK: Well, the people around her were not I mean, yes, her great friends, Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz -but also her colleague, Arizona Republican David Schweikert - Michele Bachmann...

MONTAGNE: All Republicans, of course.

SEABROOK: Yes, Joe Biden was there, everyone was beaming and hugging and you could see that there was this lifting out of weeks of struggle..

MONTAGNE: And I gather this was something she decided on her own.

SEABROOK: Yes. There was a press release afterwards. In true Congressional style, she wrote: I have closely followed the debate over our debt ceiling and have been deeply disappointed at whats going on in Washington - sounds like the rest of America.

She said, after weeks of failed debate in Washington, Im pleased to see a solution. I strongly believe that crossing the aisle for the good of the American people is more important than party politics. I had to be there for this vote. I could not take the chance that my absence could crash our economy.

MONTAGNE: Andrea, thanks very much.

SEABROOK: My pleasure.

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