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Gabrielle Giffords' return to public arena to spark new talk about her political future

April 25, 2011|By James Oliphant | Washington Bureau
  • President Obama embraces Mark Kelly, the husband of shooting victim Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, at a January memorial service at the University of Arizona for those killed in the attack on the lawmaker. Giffords will attend the launch Friday of the space shuttle mission that Kelly is commanding.
President Obama embraces Mark Kelly, the husband of shooting victim Rep.… (J. Scott Applewhite / Associated…)

Rep. Gabrielle Giffords plans to attend the launch of the space shuttle Endeavour Friday -- a reentry into the public sphere that will likely kick off a fresh round of speculation about the Arizona Democrat's political future.

Giffords now can speak in short sentences—longer ones frustrate her—and writes left-handed, according to a new report on the progress she has made since she was grievously wounded by a gunman in January.

An article in the Arizona Republic says that the although brain-injured congresswoman remains in a wheelchair, she can stand on her own and is slowly relearning to walk. Her doctors place her in the top 5% of rehabilitating patients who have suffered similar injuries.

Doctors say there is little risk in her flying to Florida to witness the shuttle launch, even though a piece of her skull remains missing. The mission is to be commanded by her husband, Mark Kelly, and President Obama and his family are expected to attend.

Giffords is not expected to make a public statement at the launch -- and it's possible she will go unphotographed.

The Democratic Party has been busily filling slots with recruits for the major Senate races in the 2012 campaign. In recent weeks, Reps. Shelley Berkley and Martin Heinrich came on board in neighboring Nevada and New Mexico, respectively. But no Democrat in Arizona has stepped forward to seek the nomination for the Senate seat there left open by Sen. Jon Kyl’s retirement, a testament to Giffords’ perceived electoral strength should she recover sufficiently to mount a Senate bid.

Speaking to reporters earlier this month, Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, chair of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, said Democrats have hope of taking the seat in the wake of Giffords’ shooting—and suggested that the race is being left open in the event Giffords decides to make a run.

“None of us can predict what Congresswoman Giffords will do and we are giving her and her family all due respect to recover from a very serious trauma, and that's where we should be," Murray said. "But what happened to Gabby Giffords changed the political landscape of Arizona. And I know that we will have a Democratic candidate there."

But the prospect of a Senate run still feels very far away.

Much of Giffords' rehabilitation centers on her regaining the use of her right arm and leg; Giffords was shot in the left side of the brain. The report said that she longs to leave the Houston facility where she has been rehabilitating.

The Arizona Republic article contradicts the popular belief that Giffords’ first words were “toast.” Instead, the newspaper says, they may have been “thank you."

Giffords’ chief of staff, Pia Carusone, said in the article that a fuller understanding of the congresswoman’s condition might not come until Christmas.

"It's unfair to set expectations on her in any way," Carusone said. "We all want the best. We want her to make the best recovery. Would a triumphant return be amazing? Yes. But first of all, her close friends and family will take anything.”

Giffords’ staff has been running her congressional office in her absence, but the article suggested that the congresswoman is eager to begin working.

President Obama recently penned a tribute to Giffords in Time magazine, which named her as one of its 100 Most Influential People. Giffords, the president wrote, “embodies the best of what public service should be: hard work and fair play, hope and resilience, a willingness to listen and a determination to do your best in a busy world.”

Washington being what it is, Obama’s praise was eventually sent out in a release by Giffords’ congressional campaign, suggesting that the congresswoman and her staff are keeping her political options open.

james.oliphant@latimes.com

twitter.com/@jamesoliphant

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