Giffords votes yes on debt deal as lawmakers wipe away tears

Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) made a dramatic return to Washington Monday evening to cast her vote in favor of the deal to raise the debt ceiling.

Returning to Capitol Hill for the first time since she was shot in the head six months ago, Giffords walked into the House chamber shortly after 7 p.m., accompanied by Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and aides.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and several friends of Giffords, including Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), huddled near the door through which Giffords made her entrance. Pelosi could be seen wiping tears from her eyes.

"Her presence here … brings honor to this chamber," Pelosi said.

Giffords was greeted warmly with a minutes-long standing ovation from Democrats, Republicans and tourists in the gallery alike. Several members of the press stood in applause as well. 

Giffords hugged Wasserman Schultz and Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.).

Leaving the chamber floor, Pelosi said it "was appropriate that she was here when there really was a bipartisan vote on the floor and one that meant so much in terms of the full faith and credit of our country." 

"We honored our obligations. She honored us with her presence," Pelosi said.

Pelosi said she hadn't encouraged Giffords to come to Washington for the vote. "I told her first things first, but she was very eager to come," she said.

In a statement, Giffords said the debt-ceiling vote was one she couldn't miss.

"I had to be here for this vote. I could not take the chance that my absence could crash our economy,” Giffords said. 

“I have closely followed the debate over our debt ceiling and have been deeply disappointed at what’s going on in Washington,” Giffords said. “After weeks of failed debate in Washington, I was pleased to see a solution to this crisis emerge. I strongly believe that crossing the aisle for the good of the American people is more important than party politics."

Members said the uptick in yes votes on the debt deal that occurred moments after Giffords walked on the House floor was a "coincidence," though her appearance lightened the mood in the tense chamber.

The debt-calling vote was the first cast by Giffords since she was critically injured earlier this year in an attack outside a Safeway in Tucson, Ariz.  

The congresswoman was hosting a "Congress on Your Corner" event when a gunman went on a shooting rampage. Six bystanders were killed, and 13 were injured, including Giffords, who was shot in the head. A 22-year-old suspect was arrested at the scene.

Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) said he was surprised by the congresswoman's return, but had some advance warning: upon picking up some visitors from Houston at the airport, he saw Giffords exit the plane.

Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), House minority whip, said that he found out Giffords was coming shortly before the vote. 

“It’s very heartening to see her have the ability to get on an airplane, come here, vote and then return and head home to continue her rehabilitation,” Hoyer said.

“It is our last vote before the August break,” Hoyer added. “So I think that was really probably the motivating factor. She wanted to come. She’s making substantial progress. And I think she wanted to be with her colleagues as she was at the very beginning of the year.”

Vice President Biden was present in the House chamber when Giffords made her triumphant entrance and made his way over to give her a hug. 

"I said, 'Great to see ya, kiddo!' " Biden recounted afterwards.

"The things that sometimes get lost in this place, and maybe I spent too much time here in the Senate, is there is a basic humanity here. It matters between people. I know it sounds corny," Biden said.

"There’s a lot of humanity left here," said Biden, who noted that he also hugged Rep. Michele Bachmann (Minn.), a candidate for the Republican nomination in 2012.

"I said, 'great to see ya, Michele.' And I meant it," Biden said.

Giffords's office posted a message on her Facebook page Monday announcing her return. 

"This is a huge step in her recovery, and an example of what we all know — she is determined to get better, and to serve [her district] and our nation," the message said. 

After the vote, Giffords tweeted about the experience. 

"The #Capitol looks beautiful and I am honored to be at work tonight," she wrote.

—Last updated at 7:55 p.m.

Andrew Restuccia, Bernie Becker, Michael O'Brien, Molly K. Hooper and Erik Wasson contributed.