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July 20, 2019

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Letter from Washington:

Giffords’ arrival on House floor brings perspective amid politics


Associated Press

In this image from House Television, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., center, gets a hug as she appears on the floor of the House of Representatives Monday, Aug. 1, 2011. Giffords was on the floor for the first time since her shooting earlier this year, attending a vote on the debt standoff compromise.

There are some moments in Washington that transcend politics, and the best ones have a knack for coming around at just the perfect time.

Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords made her way onto the House floor during the vote on the debt-ceiling compromise this evening without fanfare or warning. It was her first appearance in the Capitol since she was shot in the head in January while holding a town-hall meeting at an outdoor shopping center in Tucson.

The debt-limit negotiations have put the worst of Washington’s partisan political divisions on display. But for a moment, Giffords’ unexpected arrival washed that all away.

Every lawmaker was on the floor, watching to see if the debt compromise would clear. And as she made her way into the chamber, every person would be gripped by the magnitude of her presence, the extent of her recovery, and the dedication of her cause.

“I had to be here for this vote. I could not take the chance that my absence could crash our economy,” Giffords said in a statement explaining her return.

It’s not that her presence compelled every lawmaker to vote for the debt compromise, or that Giffords’ vote was even necessary to carry the bill.

But moments of unity are hard to come by in a divided Congress. And when lawmakers are mercilessly laying into each other over the differences in their political and economic prescriptions for the country, sometimes it takes a reminder of their common humanity to remind them of what they all share.

“I don’t think there was a dry eye in the house,” Nevada Rep. Shelley Berkley said, describing Giffords’ arrival. “Men and women. Both sides of the aisle.”

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