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In hospital visit, Obama made a promise to Gabby Giffords

November 15, 2011|By Michael A. Memoli
  • First Lady Michelle Obama holds hands with Mark Kelly, husband of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, at the University of Arizona in Tucson during a service in January for victims of the shooting spree that wounded the congresswoman.
First Lady Michelle Obama holds hands with Mark Kelly, husband of Rep. Gabrielle… (Jim Young / Reuters )

It was just days after she nearly lost her life, and Rep. Gabrielle Giffords had just emerged from a coma. But the Arizona Democrat managed to send a message to President Obama about border security as he came to her bedside.

It was Giffords' husband, Mark Kelly, who appealed to Obama on her behalf as he came to Tucson to visit with her and speak at a memorial service for the victims of the Jan. 8 shooting spree.

In a new book, "Gabby: A Story of Courage and Hope," Kelly writes that before Obama arrived he had asked Giffords' chief of staff what the three-term Democrat would say to the president if she'd had the opportunity for a meeting.

"She'd want the president to visit the border, to see what's really going on down there," Pia Carusone responded.

Obama, joined by the first lady, spent a few minutes at Giffords' bedside that day, each taking her hand and speaking to her, Obama saying the nation wished her well.

As he was ready to leave, Kelly addressed the president.

"Mr. President, Gabby really loves Arizona, and as you know, this community has a crisis on its border," he recalls saying.

"We've been trying to think what Gabby would want us to say to you today. We think she'd ask you to come back sometime and visit the border, to see for yourself the problems down there."

"Absolutely," Obama responded. "When she's ready, let me know and I'll come back."

Kelly then writes that he plans to "hold him to that promise."

Giffords had tough words for the president on border security. When he spoke on the subject in 2010, Kelly notes in the book, Giffords issued "a tough statement," which read in part: "Arizonans have heard it all before. ... The crisis on America's borders won't be addressed with words."

Kelly also writes in the book about Giffords' support for Obama in the 2008 presidential campaign, but not until late in the primary battle with Hillary Rodham Clinton. She wasn't sure two years later that he knew much about her until she met with him in the White House. "I like your new haircut!" he told her. "His comment made her day because she didn't really like the new hairstyle," Kelly writes.

Giffords has visited Washington only twice since the shooting, and to Congress just once. But her staff has been carrying on with the official business of her office nonetheless.

In a recorded message to her constituents released Tuesday, Giffords says she wants "to get back to work."

"Representing Arizona is my honor. My staff is there to help you," she says. "They keep me informed on your behalf."

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