Giffords a reality check in chamber of politics

Retiring Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., smiles on Capitol Hill prior to President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address Tuesday.

Retiring Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., smiles on Capitol Hill prior to President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address Tuesday. Photo by The Associated Press.

WASHINGTON (AP) — In a bittersweet farewell, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords accepted bags of chocolates and a big presidential hug as she claimed her seat one last time in the House of Representatives Tuesday night.

Giffords, who has regained much of her ability to speak and walk after a gunshot wound to the head Jan. 8, 2011, will leave Congress this week to focus on her recovery. But first, she wanted to attend the State of the Union she was forced to miss last year in the uncertain days after the shooting.

Just before President Barack Obama was to speak, Giffords quietly entered the chamber under her own power and made her way the few steps to a seat that had been reserved for her. Hug No. 1 came from friend Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida. Giffords’ colleagues stood and gently applauded her.

“Gabby! Gabby!” some of them chanted.

Limping a little, Giffords beamed around the chamber and raised her left hand to wave. Rep. Louis Gohmert, R-Texas, approached with two bags of chocolate, which Giffords took, grinning.

She looked to the gallery to wave at her husband, astronaut Mark Kelly. When First Lady Michelle Obama took her seat next to him, she waved, too.

The president himself swooped in with a big bear hug around Giffords’ tiny frame, grinning widely before climbing to the rostrum for the speech.

She is expected Wednesday to vote on one last bill, a measure she co-authored to impose tougher penalties on smugglers who use small, low-flying aircraft to avoid radar detection and bring drugs across the Mexican border.

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