WASHINGTON – When Tucson resident Ray Davies heard that Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Tucson, was back in Washington Monday night, he made sure to leave his hotel room first thing Tuesday to deliver flowers to her Capitol Hill office.
He was already too late.
Giffords slipped out of town Tuesday morning just as quickly and quietly as she slipped in the night before to cast the first vote since being wounded in a January shooting spree.
She met briefly with Washington staffers Tuesday before heading back to Houston for rehabilitation, said spokesman C.J. Karamargin. He would not elaborate on the meeting, only the second time Giffords and her D.C. staffers have met since the Jan. 8 shooting, but said it was an inspirational experience.
“This has been a very emotional triumph for everyone,” Karamargin said. “We’ve been watching her work for months now. Last night, we saw the fulfillment of those dreams. We saw the result of all her hard work.”
Giffords was at a public event at a Tucson supermarket on Jan. 8 when a gunman opened fire, killing six people and wounding 13, including the congresswoman who was shot in the head.
She was hospitalized until June, then released to her husband’s Houston-area home where she has received outpatient rehabilitation. She has made few trips, traveling to Tucson for Father’s Day and Florida to see her husband, astronaut Mark Kelly, lift off in the space shuttle.
And then she came to Washington.
In what has jokingly been called the best-kept secret in Washington, Giffords told only a handful of House leaders of her plan to show up Monday night to vote on the debt-limit bill. Her Arizona colleagues were told just minutes before she showed up and most members appeared to learn only when they saw her walk on to the floor.
Karamargin found it interesting that people were surprised at Giffords’ ability to keep her appearance under wraps.
“If you don’t want someone to know something, you don’t tell anyone. Maybe Washington has forgotten that,” he said. “It happened rather quickly … and we didn’t tell anyone.”
Rep. Trent Franks, R-Peoria, said he remembered the last time he saw Giffords in the House: They were on the floor wishing each other a happy New Year.
“To see her again, having come back from this impossible scenario, it’s proof that hope is still worth holding on to,” said Franks, who called the moment “touching, poignant beyond words.”
Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Tucson, who could be seen on television speaking to Giffords and giving her a kiss on the cheek, said her appearance “made everyone put their swords down for a while.”
“It was a very moving moment. She called me by name and said, ‘Hello, Raul,’” Grijalva said. “That’s significant…. There weren’t too many dry eyes on the floor.”
The same was true in Tucson, where about 15 staffers jammed into Karamargin’s office to watch Giffords get a standing ovation from the House.
“There was just stone cold silence, then sniffles,” Karamargin said. “They were wiping away tears in Washington, and we were here.
“The emotions are still pretty raw,” Karamargin said Tuesday. “Many of us will be dealing with what happened on Jan. 8 for the rest of our lives.”
Outside Giffords’ office Tuesday, Davies was unfazed by the fact that he missed Giffords, whom he said he has known since she was a little girl. He walked in the office and delivered the flowers anyway, then asked for a picture in front of the Arizona flag near Giffords’ nameplate.
“She’s a workhorse. She’s remarkable,” Davies said. “I hope (her) healing can be done now.”
Nick Newman is a reporter for Cronkite News Service.