For Giffords's staff extra casework, creative solutions until she returns

A surge in constituent casework is one challenge that has confronted the office of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) since her Jan. 8 shooting, thanks to media coverage and word-of-mouth recommendations.

“When she was first elected, Gabby told everyone on her team that she wanted to have the best constituent services operation in Congress, and that is still our goal,” says C.J. Karamargin, Giffords's spokesman. “People tell people: ‘Giffords’s office can get the job done.’” 

While Giffords continues her recuperation in Houston, colleagues and other offices have stepped forward in her absence to fill the void by raising local concerns at hearings and fundraising for her campaign committee.

House leadership in the 111th Congress, under then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), estimated that Giffords’s staff fielded approximately four times the average number of constituent cases as other offices.

Today, those cases come not only from parts of Arizona outside her district, but from around the country. (Karamargin says those from other districts are referred to their local lawmaker.)

“I don’t know how widely known it is that a congressional office can you help you when you have problems with your Medicare, or Social Security,” Karamargin says. “But it's obvious that the extensive media coverage helped people see us as a resource, which we are.”

The uptick in inquiries is just one of many adjustments the staff has made since January, when Giffords underwent several surgeries for the bullet wound in her skull.

In the House Armed Services Committee, of which Giffords is a member, Rep. Adam SmithAdam SmithPentagon starts review of nuclear posture ordered by Trump Overnight Cybersecurity: Rice denies wrongly unmasking Trump team | Dems plead for electric grid cyber funds | China reportedly targeting cloud providers Lawmakers introduce bill to end warrantless phone searches at border MORE (D-Wash.) works with Giffords’s legislative director Peter Ambler to bring issues concerning southeastern Arizona to the table.

Rep. Ted PoeTed PoeThe Hill's Whip List: Who to watch on GOP's new ObamaCare bill The art of the compromise Ryan transfers record M to House GOP's campaign arm in March MORE (R-Texas), who struck up a friendship with Giffords in 2010, visited the southern Arizona border in the spring and was hosted by Giffords's staff.

He later introduced legislation “on the congresswoman's behalf" to help improve cell-phone communication in rural areas. Service coverage issues have made border residents less safe, Giffords's office says.

More recently, Giffords's Blue Dog colleagues Reps. Jason Altmire (D-Pa.), Tim Holden (D-Pa.) and John BarrowJohn BarrowOur democracy can’t afford to cut legal aid services from the budget Dem files Ethics complaint on Benghazi panel Barrow thanks staff in farewell speech MORE (D-Ga.) also visited the border, where they spoke with ranchers and Border Patrol officials. Her office organized the trip.

"Congresswoman Giffords has told her colleagues on numerous occasions that seeing the border for yourself ... is the best way to understand what is happening," said Giffords chief of staff Pia Carusone.

Smith recently held a fundraiser for Giffords near the Capitol.

Democratic Sens. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandSenate votes to confirm Rosenstein as deputy attorney general Senate approves Trump's Agriculture chief Dems urge Trump to include Northeast Corridor tunnel project in infrastructure bill MORE (N.Y.) and Mark UdallMark UdallPicking 2018 candidates pits McConnell vs. GOP groups Gorsuch's critics, running out of arguments, falsely scream 'sexist' Election autopsy: Latinos favored Clinton more than exit polls showed MORE (Colo.), and Reps. Rosa DeLauro (Conn.) and Debbie Wasserman Schultz (Fla.), now chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, have done the same.

But it's the constituent-services front, staffers say, that is their priority.

In early February, they helped a Tucson woman escape Cairo as the violence escalated there.

In another case, they helped a local defense contractor whose identity had been stolen reestablish himself and regain his security clearance.

Karamargin later attended the man's wedding, as a representative of the office.

“The list of positive things that have come out of Jan. 8 can be minuscule compared with the heartbreak of that day,” Karamargin says. “But we are determined as an office to focus on those things that we can do.”

“We have a very long ‘can’t-wait-to-tell-Gabby’ list.”