Rep. Gabrielle Giffords Returns to Cast Critical Vote
Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was surrounded by her mother, one of her staff members and a close friend during this photoshoot at her hospital in Houston.
Credit: P.K. Weis, SouthwestPhotoBank.com

Arizona congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, wife of astronaut Mark Kelly, made an unexpected return to work yesterday (Aug. 1) for the first time since being shot in the head seven months ago, to cast a crucial vote in an economic bill aimed at averting a national debt crisis, according to news reports.

Giffords, D-Ariz., returned to the House of Representatives on Monday to loud applause and rounds of hugs, the Associated Press reported. She made her surprise appearance in Washington, D.C. to cast a vote in favor of a bill that will raise the nation's $14.3 trillion debt ceiling.

"The Capitol looks beautiful and I am honored to be at work tonight," Giffords wrote last night in a messaged posted on Twitter. [Video: Giffords Returns to Cast Critical Vote]

Giffords entered the House with only minutes remaining in the vote, reported the AP. The bill eventually passed 269-161. 

"I have closely followed the debate over our debt ceiling and have been deeply disappointed at what's going on in Washington," Giffords said in the statement, according to the AP. "I strongly believe that crossing the aisle for the good of the American people is more important than party politics. I had to be here for this vote. I could not take the chance that my absence could crash our economy." [FAQ: What's the Debt Ceiling?]

Giffords' surprise appearance at the House vote came just seven months after she suffered a bullet wound to the head in a failed assassination attempt at a community outreach event in Tucson, Ariz. on January 8.

The Arizona Democrat has been undergoing intense rehabilitation in the months since, but was discharged from her Houston hospital in June to begin outpatient treatment.

Giffords' return was largely unexpected, and only a few Congressional leaders were notified in advance.

"It was one of the most thrilling moments for all of us to see this real heroine return to the House," Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said, according to the AP, "and to do so at such a dramatic time."

Giffords was accompanied by Kelly when she exited the House chamber, according to press reports, and the Arizona congresswoman was assisted by an aide as she appeared to walk with difficulty.

The bill to raise the debt ceiling came just before the deadline for the U.S. Treasury to borrow necessary funds to avoid defaulting on the nation's debt. The bill's passing came after weeks of deadlocked partisan debate between Republicans and Democrats in Washington.

The Senate and President Barack Obama are now expected to sign off on a deal that will lift the country's debt limit.

Giffords' return to Washington is the latest milestone in what has been a remarkable recovery. Four months after being critically injured, Giffords traveled to NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla. to see her husband and his five crewmates launch to the International Space Station on the final flight of the space shuttle Endeavour in May.

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