WASHINGTON - Representative Gabrielle Giffords, an Arizona Democrat, whose unlikely recovery from a shooting last year stirred her colleagues and the nation, said yesterday that she would resign from Congress to focus on improving her health.
In a video released yesterday afternoon, Giffords, in a halting voice, explained: “I don’t remember much from that horrible day, but I will never forget the trust you placed in me to be your voice. 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.’’
But Giffords hinted at a potential return to elective office. “I will return, and we will work together for Arizona and this great country,’’ she said.
On Jan. 9, 2011, Giffords was shot at a “Congress on Your Corner’’ meet-and-greet event outside a grocery store in Tucson. A 9-year-old girl named Christina Green and a federal judge, John Roll, were among those killed.
Jared Lee Loughner, a 22-year-old college dropout, has been charged with numerous federal counts, among them the attempted assassination of a member of Congress.
Giffords’s decision to step down throws the race for her seat representing Arizona’s Eighth District into chaos. She barely fought off her Republican challenger in 2010 but was expected to be a shoo-in for reelection had she decided to run this year. The remainder of her term will be filled by the winner of a special election on a date to be determined by Governor Jan Brewer.
Under Arizona law, a governor has 72 hours from the day the vacancy is declared to name the dates for special elections; the primary must take place 80 to 90 days from date of the vacancy followed by a general election 50 to 60 days after that.
Democrats, fearing the loss of the seat, had hoped that Giffords’s husband, the retired astronaut Mark Kelly, would run in her place. Friends of the couple said yesterday that they thought that was not likely and that Kelly would be more inclined to spend his time helping his wife with her recovery.
According to her office, Giffords will attempt to “finish her Congress on Your Corner’’ event in the supermarket parking lot in Tucson where she was shot. It will be a private event that will include some of the people who attended last year.
Giffords, who will officially resign later this week, will also attend President Obama’s State of the Union address tomorrow night in the House chamber.
Obama praised Giffords yesterday for “a dedication to fairness, a willingness to listen to different ideas, and a tireless commitment to the work of perfecting our union.’’ He said Giffords and her husband “have taught us the true meaning of hope in the face of despair’’ and “determination in the face of incredible odds.’’
In August, Giffords, who was first elected in 2006, made a surprise return to the Capitol to cast a vote to raise the nation’s debt ceiling. Her visit raised the possibility she might return.
John A. Boehner, who became House speaker only days before the shooting, said in a statement yesterday: “I salute Representative Giffords for her service, and for the courage and perseverance she has shown in the face of tragedy. She will be missed.’’
In a statement, Representative Nancy Pelosi, the minority leader who visited Giffords in the hospital shortly after the shooting and was there when she first opened her eyes, said: “I join all my colleagues in Congress in thanking Gabby for the honor of calling her colleague and wishing Gabby and Mark great success and happiness. She will be missed in the House of Representatives, but her legacy in the Congress and her leadership for our nation will certainly continue.’’
Just two weeks after she was shot, Giffords was flown from Tucson to a rehabilitation hospital in her husband’s hometown of Houston.
Months of rehabilitation began, with Giffords learning how to walk and talk again. About four months after she was shot, she flew to Florida to watch Kelly pilot the nation’s next-to-last space shuttle mission, but she stayed out of public view.
The first photos of Giffords appeared in June. After her August appearance in Congress, she appeared in a TV video, speaking just a few words at a time. A more complex recording was released in November.
The video released yesterday edits 13 sentences into a fluid announcement, with Giffords looking straight into the camera. In addition to pictures of Arizona landscapes and past shots of the candidate speaking with constituents, video includes images of the 41-year-old struggling at rehab center and walking along a street with Kelly with an obvious limp.
She says in the video that she’s not done with service. “I’m getting better. Every day my spirit is high,’’ she says. “I will return and we will work together for Arizona and this great country.’’