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Giffords Staff Member Describes An Emotional Return To The House

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Giffords Staff Member Describes An Emotional Return To The House

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Giffords Staff Member Describes An Emotional Return To The House

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MELISSA BLOCK, host: The Capitol looks beautiful and I'm honored to be at work tonight. That was a tweet from Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, whose surprise appearance in the House last night to vote for the debt ceiling bill electrified the chamber. Members burst into sustained applause and rushed to embrace her. It was the first time Giffords had been in Washington since she was shot in the head by a gunman in Tucson seven months ago.

C.J. Karamargin is Representative Giffords' communications director. He joins me from Tucson. And, C.J., you were watching on TV from the district office last night?

C.J. KARAMARGIN: Yes, with my colleagues. We were crammed into my little office. We had two televisions on. We knew it was going to happen, so we were sitting there in silence. And then once the applause started, the tears started flying here. It was quite an emotional moment for us.

BLOCK: What have you heard from the staff who were with her in the chamber last night about what the mood was like, what the feeling was of being back in the halls of Congress?

KARAMARGIN: Yeah, the mood was electric. It really was something else. It was, I think, a great way to end what has been a tremendously acrimonious and bitter debate. That vote was probably the single-most important vote taken by Congress this year. And the congresswoman insisted on being in Washington for it.

BLOCK: Congresswoman Giffords did release a statement after the vote. And she did say she has deeply disappointed by what's going on in Washington. How closely is she following what's going on in Congress?

KARAMARGIN: Well, she has been following the debate very closely. She's been briefed on it. Last week, when the discussions reached a particular impasse, she turned to her husband, Mark, and shook her head and said just get it done.

BLOCK: Her reappearance, of course, C.J., raised a lot of questions and curiosity about where she is in her recovery, one of which would have to do with language. I remember seeing a story a few months back in the Arizona Republic saying that she was communicating with very small phrases, single words. Where is she now with her language recovery?

KARAMARGIN: Well, her recovery is continuing to improve. Going to Washington to cast a vote that was absolutely critical for our economy doesn't change the fact that she still has work to do in her recovery. The congresswoman wants to return to her job full-time, but she wants to return when she is able to devote her complete attention to it. And that's the goal that she's been working toward for months now and that's the goal that she will continue to work toward.

BLOCK: So, the statement that was released by your office last night, would that be something that she could articulate verbally? Could she type a statement like that?

KARAMARGIN: She can communicate to us. I mean, we saw her last night on the floor. She was whispering in the ears of some of her colleagues. Yes, she can communicate and her verbal skills, like her physical strength, are continuing to improve tremendously.

BLOCK: Now, Congresswoman Giffords hasn't yet filed for re-election next year. Any decisions yet about 2012?

KARAMARGIN: No. The congresswoman is focused on her recovery. No decision has been made about 2012, and I think there's still plenty of time for those decisions to be made.

BLOCK: C.J. Karamargin, thanks for talking with us today.

KARAMARGIN: Thank you.

BLOCK: C.J. Karamargin is communications director for Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. She returned to Washington to vote yes on the debt ceiling bill last night.

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