Amid tears and applause from her colleagues, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz) resigned from the House on Wednesday, a year after she was shot in the head during a Tucson shooting rampage that killed six people. After the House unanimously passed the last piece of legislation that she submitted before she was shot— a bill that would increase prison sentences for smugglers flying drugs in from Mexico on ultralight aircrafts — Giffords received an emotional standing ovation from her congressional colleagues. "It's cliché to say there wasn't a dry eye in the room," says Chad Pergram at Fox News. But in this case, "it's also accurate." Giffords' replacement will be decided in a June special election. But what's next for Gifford herself? Here's what you should know:
First of all, how is Giffords' recovery going?
Her family and doctors sound upbeat. Still, Giffords has trouble speaking and forming sentences, a condition known as aphasia. Nancy Helm-Estabrooks, an expert in aphasia who has been working with Giffords, says that while the Arizonan has trouble with long sentences, she uses "high-information words" that convey a lot of meaning. "Gabby's understanding of language is relatively spared," Helm-Estabrooks tells The Charlotte Observer. "She watches movies. She watches the news," and her husband, Mark Kelly, reports that he "can almost carry on a conversation with her." "She's remembered every boy she's ever kissed, every song she's ever sang, every bill she's ever passed," Giffords' mother, Gloria, tells the AP. "So upward and onward."
What's her prognosis?
"I don't give false hope, and I'm pretty realistic in what I say about people with aphasia," says Helm-Estabrooks. "But I have no doubt she's going to continue to recover and recover and recover.... You haven't heard the last of her yet." I'm very optimistic, Kelly tells the AP. "She just needs some more time, whether it's a year or two years or three years, I'm very confident she's going to have a long and effective career as a public servant."
Will Giffords run for Congress again?
She is certainly dropping hints that she might. In her resignation letter, read by friend Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), Giffords says she has "more work to do on my recovery before I can again serve in elected office," but that she "will recover and will return, and we will work together again, for Arizona and for all Americans." In the meantime, says Alex Isenstadt at Politico, Democrats expect Giffords to play "kingmaker" in the race to fill her House seat, anointing the Democrat she feels would best carry out her legacy, then giving that candidate a boost in what's expected to be a very competitive general election.
What if she doesn't run again?
"We should take her at her word" that she'll return, says Tom Zoellner at CNN, but "that doesn't mean a return to elective office." In fact, Congress may well "be too small for" the heroic Giffords. "She now has a golden opportunity to start a 'Gabrielle Giffords Institute' for the study of gun violence or mental health care reform or solar energy or whatever public policy issue she wants to emphasize. Her moral authority and influence may be better used outside... the daily grind of politics and partisanship." Yes, "I kind of think she's transcended Congress," says Gloria Giffords. But as to what's next, "I don't know where she's going to end up."