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Gabrielle Giffords bids an emotional farewell to Congress

January 25, 2012|By Lisa Mascaro

Rep. Gabrielle Giffords returned to the House floor one final time as her colleagues approved her bipartisan border security bill on the day she officially stepped down from office.

Friends have said the Arizona Democrat has never been one to tackle her goals halfway. It was fitting, then, that she closed out her career with a legislative victory.

The day was bittersweet as emotional colleagues said farewell to the well-liked congresswoman, described byRep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) as an "extraordinary daughter of this House," who announced she would step down this week to focus on her recovery.

DOCUMENT: Giffords' letters of resignation

Lawmakers quickly enveloped Giffords as she arrived in the House chamber Wednesday morning, one at a time shaking her hand or kissing her cheek. She was escorted by her closest friend in the chamber, Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

Giffords' mother, Gloria, watched from the House gallery along with retired astronaut Mark Kelly, Giffords' husband.

The chamber was mostly full, and staff members ringed the back rows.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi began a series of bipartisan tributes to Giffords, calling her "the brightest star that Congress has ever seen."

"She has brought the word dignity to new heights by her courage," Pelosi said. "Congresswoman Giffords' message of bipartisanship and civility is one that all in Washington and in the nation should honor and emulate."

"While Gabby may be leaving Washington today, I know this won't be the last we see of her tomorrow," said Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), the majority leader.

At one point, Hoyer told Giffords, "We have missed you." Giffords, turned backward to see her colleague, replied: "And I miss you."

Giffords was shot in the head a year ago after a gunman opened fire at a public event with constituents outside a Tucson grocery store. Six people died and 12 others were wounded in a rampage that unsettled lawmakers and brought pleas for civility during an era of heated partisan politics.

The legislation on which Giffords cast her final vote would give the Homeland Security Department greater ability to go after ultralight planes believed to be smuggling narcotics from Mexico into the United States.

It passed unanimously.

Quick passage offers a gesture of goodwill from her colleagues as leaders held a brief ceremony celebrating her career.

The bill had drawn bipartisan support earlier, but died in the Senate where colleagues have pledged to give it speedy treatment.

Giffords was submitting her resignation Wednesday, closing out three terms in office. Her departure takes effect at the close of business Wednesday.

An emotional Wasserman Schultz read the letter on the floor, with Giffords at her side and surrounded by other Arizona lawmakers.

"In public service, I found a venue for my pursuit of a strong America," Giffords wrote. "I found a way to care for others. And in the past year, I have found a value that is unbreakable even by the most vicious of attacks."

"Everyday, I am working hard. I will recover and will return," she concluded.

With that, Giffords climbed the House rostrum – steadily in sneakers -- to deliver the letter to Speaker John Boehner, who wiped tears from his eyes after embracing his colleague.

Michael A. Memoli contributed to this report.

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