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Giffords resigns from Congress, is honored in emotional farewell

U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords hugs Daniel Hernandez, the former congressional intern who helped save her life, at a private gathering Jan. 23. (Facebook.com)

U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), who was wounded in an assassination attempt on Jan. 8, 2011, announced Sunday that she would resign from Congress. In a dramatic two-minute video posted on her congressional website, Giffords said she will step down as she continues her recovery.

“I have more work to do on my recovery, so to do what is best for Arizona, I will step down this week,” she said. “I’m getting better. Every day my spirit is high. I will return, and we will work together for Arizona and this great country.”

Speaking slowly but clearly, Giffords thanked viewers for their prayers and said that she will always remember the trust her constitutents placed in her.

Tucsonans were quick to weigh in on Giffords’ resignation on Facebook.  Mayor Jonathan Rothschild posted the following message:  “Gabby, Tucson loves you. We wish you all the best in your amazing recovery. We are grateful for your service in Congress and, before that, in the Arizona Legislature. I know that you will continue to inspire, to lead, and to accomplish great things.”

Giffords was shot through the left side of her brain at a Congress on Your Corner event last January outside a Safeway in northwest Tucson.  Six people were killed and 13 others, including Giffords, were wounded. The accused gunman, Jared Loughner, is being treated in a Missouri federal prison in an attempt to make him psychologically fit to stand trial. In the video, Giffords said she doesn’t “remember much from that horrible day.”

On Monday, her last day in Tucson as a member of Congress, the 41-year-old Giffords held a private gathering with some of the people who were at the Jan. 8, 2011 event, including some of the citizens who aided injured people and others who subdued the gunman.  She also visited the Gabrielle Giffords Family Assistance Center at the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona, established with donations made in her honor after the shooting.

Giffords attended President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address Tuesday evening at the Capital. She sat between U.S. Reps. Jeff Flake, a Republican, and Raul Grijalva, a Democrat. At last year’s State of the Union address, shortly after Giffords was shot, the Arizona congressmen flanked an empty seat reserved for Giffords.

President Obama invited Giffords’ husband, Mark Kelly, to be his guest at the address. Kelly sat with First Lady Michelle Obama.

The National Jewish Democratic Council wished Giffords, the first Jewish woman to be elected to Congress from Arizona, “continued quick healing on her path to recovery” and looked forward to “the occasion when we can welcome her back to public life.”

“We are so tremendously proud of the remarkable determination and resiliency that Gabby has shown in her amazing recovery; indeed all Americans have watched in awe as she has taken her first steps and grown stronger and stronger,” NJDC chair Marc Stanley and vice-chair Marc Winkelman said in a statement. “While we have all eagerly hoped for the day that Gabby would rejoin her colleagues on a daily basis on Capitol Hill, it’s a sign of how highly she values her constituents and her district that she has made this very difficult decision to step aside.”

Giffords, a third-generation Arizonan who served for five years in the state legislature before being elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in November 2006, was sworn in for her third term just  days before the shooting tragedy.

After she joined Congress on Jan. 4, 2007, Giffords cast herself as a champion of border security, energy independence and the needs of military families and veterans.

According to her congressional office, Giffords was proud that her 9,000-square mile district included Tombstone, the town “too tough to die.”

Giffords, who was honored in an emotional farewell on the House floor, submitted her letter of resignation Wednesday to  Speaker John Boehner. She also submitted her letter to Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer. The governor will set a date for special primary and general elections this spring to determine who will serve the remainder of Giffords’ term until January 2013, followed by the regular primary and general elections in the fall.

Former Tucson Mayor Tom Volgy, a political science professor at the University of Arizona, predicted in Monday’s Arizona Daily Star, “There is an enormous amount of good will toward Gabby, and whoever she would endorse would likely win the special election.”

Republican National Committeeman Bruce Ash told the AJP that “a Giffords endorsement will mean something more in the primary than in the general election.”

“Being a member of Congress is just a job,” he added. “Gabby and her family know what is most important is her full recovery and return to full health. All of her friends feel the same way. She has served her constituents very well. She is a patriot. We all look forward to what we hope is a long healthy life.”

Rabbi Stephanie Aaron of Congregation Chaverim, where Giffords is a member, told the AJP, “I’m very, very sad. It’s an acute feeling that our state, our country, our world has been deprived of a great leader. For her it was the right thing to do. It will take a combination of a lot of strong prayer for Gabby’s continued recovery, and hope that she returns to public service as the powerful Gabby Giffords we all know and love.”

To view Rep. Giffords’ resignation video, go to  giffordsforcongress.com. JTA contributed to this article.