Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) entered and left the House on foot to massive applause, limping with the help of her husband, Mark Kelly. On her way out, she was trailed by her friends, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, DNC chair Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, as well as the Vice President of the United States, Joe Biden, who was in attendance just for the occasion.
“I got a tip,” Biden said, beaming, when asked by TPM whether he had prior knowledge of the event. “That’s why I came up. I wanted to give her a hug.”
Rep. John Dingell (D-MI), the longest serving member of Congress, told TPM it was “wonderful” to see Giffords.
“Thank God she’s coming along,” Dingell said. “Well, we’ve had people shot but I’ve never seen them come back like that. But obviously every day around here is something new and different.”
For Pelosi, who had just led her caucus through a bitter debate over the debt ceiling that climaxed with the passage of a bipartisan agreement on Monday (Gifford voted “aye”), the moment helped put everything in perspective. Like Biden she also had advance knowledge of the visit, having been informed by her chief of staff John Lawrence, a friend of the Gifford family.
“She and her husband care very much about our country, this was an important vote for them,” she told reporters. “I’m so personally thrilled, though, that the vote seems….” She trailed off there.
Pelosi recounted how “We had our girl talk, yes, our girl hugs and all that” before Giffords departed, her total stay only a few minutes. She offered no news as to when — or whether — Giffords would return to work.
“I’m not going to talk about her schedule,” she said. “Suffice to say, it was one of the thrilling moments for all of us to see this real heroine return to the House and to do so in such a dramatic time.”
But Pelosi’s heads up was an anomaly. Rep. Rob Andrews (D-NJ) said that members weren’t given any sort of warning — indeed one member told TPM that Giffords wasn’t going to vote when rumors started flying on Twitter — and Andrews said members “didn’t know why all the applause went up.”
“The board was at 200 votes, and no one knew,” Andrews told TPM. “And I’ve gotta tell you, as low as that Saturday morning was, this was equally high…After all the sourness and bitnerness, it was a moment of real triumph. It reminded us of what really counts.”
Ryan Reilly contributed to this report.
Benjy Sarlin is a reporter for Talking Points Memo and co-writes the campaign blog, TPM2012. He previously reported for The Daily Beast/Newsweek as their Washington Correspondent and covered local politics for the New York Sun.