Giffords Makes A Tearful Farewell

Arizona Rep. Gabby Giffords took to the House floor Wednesday one last time to say good-bye, for now, to her colleagues. It was an emotional scene as she handed in her resignation, a little more than a year after being gravely injured in an assassination attempt.

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

And I'm Robert Siegel. There was a tearful scene of rare solidarity today in the House of Representatives. Arizona Democrat Gabrielle Giffords handed in her resignation one year after being shot in the head by a would-be assassin.

NPR's David Welna has the story.

DAVID WELNA, BYLINE: Last night in the House Chamber, the battle lines were clear as President Obama delivered his State of the Union Address. Democrats leaped to their feet and applauded. Republicans sat on their hands.

Today, it was a different story.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

WELNA: Republicans and Democrats alike rose and applauded as Gabrielle Giffords slowly walked down the center aisle. She was welcomed by Democratic Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

REPRESENTATIVE NANCY PELOSI: All of us come to the floor today, colleagues of Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, to salute her as the brightest star among us, the brightest star Congress has ever seen.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

WELNA: To which the Republican Majority Leader Eric Cantor added...

REPRESENTATIVE ERIC CANTOR: I know I speak for all of my colleagues when I say we are inspired, hopeful and blessed for the incredible progress that Gabby has made in her recovery.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

WELNA: It was Florida Democrat Debbie Wasserman Schultz, though, who hit the emotional hot button in the chamber as she stood with her arm around Giffords.

REPRESENTATIVE DEBBIE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: I couldn't prepare anything this morning because I knew that I would not be able to hold it together very long.

WELNA: Wasserman Schultz had agreed to be the voice of her close friend from Arizona, but she first had something to say herself.

SCHULTZ: No matter what we argue about here 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.

REPRESENTATIVE GABRIELLE GIFFORDS: Yes.

SCHULTZ: For life.

GIFFORDS: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

WELNA: With Giffords' mother and husband Mark Kelly looking on from the visitors' gallery, Wasserman Schultz read aloud Giffords' resignation letter.

SCHULTZ: From my first steps and first words after being shot to my current physical and speech therapy, I have given all of myself to being able to walk back onto the House floor this year to represent Arizona's Eighth Congressional District. However, today, I know that now is not the time. I have more work to do on my recovery before I can again serve in elected office.

WELNA: But the letter ended with a firm vow.

SCHULTZ: I will recover and will return and we will work together again for Arizona and for all Americans. Sincerely, Gabrielle Giffords, member of Congress.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

WELNA: And, with that, Giffords handed her resignation letter to the openly weeping Speaker of the House, John Boehner. Whether it's a Democrat or a Republican who replaces her seemed, today, at least, to matter little.

David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.

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