Warm hugs, ovation for Giffords at Obama speech
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords, who leaves Congress this week a year after being shot in the head by a gunman in her home state, received a standing ovation from colleagues and a hug and kiss from President Barack Obama on Tuesday night in an emotional appearance at the State of the Union address.
Smiling and waving, Giffords made her way to a front-row seat in the House of Representatives chamber for one of her last official duties as a Democratic member of Congress before she steps down to focus on recovering from an assassination attempt last year.
Fellow Arizona Representatives Raul Grijalva, a Democrat, and Jeff Flake, a Republican, stood by to assist Giffords as she shook hands with other members, spoke to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and waved to first lady Michelle Obama, who was sitting by Giffords' husband, Mark Kelly, in the gallery.
Giffords, 41, will cast her last vote in the House on Wednesday for legislation she and Flake introduced this week, her office said in a statement.
Giffords said on Sunday she would leave office to focus on recovering from injuries sustained when she was shot in the head at close range on January 8, 2011.
"I have more work to do on my recovery, so to do what is best for Arizona I will step down this week," Giffords said. "I'm getting better. Every day my spirit is high."
Giffords won re-election in a swing district in 2010, a year that saw many Democrats lose seats. She was holding a meet-and-greet event at a Tucson supermarket when a gunman began firing.
Six people were killed, including a 9-year-old girl and a federal judge, and 12 others were wounded.
Jared Loughner, a college dropout, was charged with first-degree murder, the attempted assassination of Giffords and other crimes stemming from the shooting. He pleaded not guilty and was found mentally unfit to stand trial.
Giffords has since received therapy at a hospital in Houston, Texas.
The bill Giffords and Flake introduced would levy new penalties on people who use small, low-flying aircraft to smuggle drugs across the U. s. border with Mexico.
(Reporting By Emily Stephenson, additional reporting by Thomas Ferraro; Editing by Marilyn W. Thompson and Doina Chiacu)
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