Tucson, Ariz., Reacts To Giffords Resignation

Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords is stepping down from her seat. She made the announcement Sunday, and Monday she spent time with the people who were with her last January when she was shot through the head at a community event in her home district.

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To Arizona now, where Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords spent the day meeting constituents, including some fellow survivors of last year's shooting. This is one of Giffords' last days in office. She caught many off guard yesterday when she announced she's leaving her seat to focus on her recovery.

As NPR's Ted Robbins reports, today's events in Tucson began with Giffords completing her fateful "Congress on Your Corner" event.

TED ROBBINS, BYLINE: A year later, the "Congress on Your Corner" wasn't held at the Safeway supermarket in Tucson. It was a private event at her district office. Suzie Hileman was one of the 19 people shot. She told the Tucson CBS affiliate how remarkable it was to finally meet Gabby Giffords.

SUZIE HILEMAN: When you think that a year ago she was lying on the cold concrete with a bullet in her brain. And today, she walked in under her own steam and said hello, and shook our hands and listened.

ROBBINS: Giffords spent the entire morning greeting not only those directly affected by the shooting, but dozens of friends and constituents. Gary Thrasher is a rancher who lives near the Mexican border. He's a Republican, but he's been an active backer of the Democrat Giffords because of her support for border security. He drove two hours to see wish Giffords well.

GARY THRASHER: Well, I'm happy to see her and I'm glad she's - and I told her that she's just the epitome of true grit. And that's about all I can say about her.

ROBBINS: There were mixed feelings among those I spoke with. Happiness that Gabby Giffords was there greeting them, sadness that she is leaving Congress after having survived so much. Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild.

MAYOR JONATHAN ROTHCHILD: Yeah, you were hoping for one more. You know, Gabby has done so well. And she kept the hope so up that she would return to office, that it's sad to see such a great public servant leave office.

ROBBINS: Rothschild and others learned only yesterday that Giffords is stepping down. Her office released a two-minute video posted on her Facebook page.

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REPRESENTATIVE GABRIELLE GIFFORDS: A lot has happened over the past year. We cannot change that.

ROBBINS: Gifford's short sentences are inter-cut with shots of her when she was healthy, as well as images from the last year.

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GIFFORDS: Thank you for your prayers and for giving me time to recover. I have more work to do on my recovery. So, to do what is best for Arizona, I will step down this week.

ROBBINS: By all accounts, Giffords decision to step down was hers. Over the last few weeks, those close to her say she realized that she couldn't be in rehab for her brain injury part-time, while being a part-time congresswoman. She tires easily and her rehab will take years, not months.

When her resignation is officially submitted within a week, Arizona's governor will call a special election for a successor to fill out the remainder of her term, though Giffords indicated that she is not through with public life.

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GIFFORDS: I will return. And we will work together for Arizona and this great country.

ROBBINS: After attending an event at the Tucson Community Food Bank today, Gabby Giffords is heading to Washington for President Barack Obama's State of the Union address Tuesday. Her husband, Mark Kelly, will sit with Michelle Obama in the first lady's box. Gabrielle Giffords will sit in her seat as a representative one last time.

Ted Robbins, NPR News, Tucson.

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