By Debbie Siegelbaum - 12/02/11 12:49 AM EST
The House unanimously passed a resolution Thursday officially naming a room in the Capitol Visitor Center after a slain staffer to Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.).
The House passed the resolution 419-0. Sponsored by Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), the measure will name HVC 215 after Gabriel Zimmerman, the first congressional staffer killed in the line of duty.
“I have a very full heart,” Wasserman Schultz told The Hill after Thursday evening’s vote. “There’s not a lot of bright spots these days, so this is kind of poignant and bittersweet.”
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) did not cast a vote, which is usual practice for Speakers. Boehner, however, did vote in this year’s debt deal.
“It’s really the culmination of almost 12 months of just, I think, trying to work through what happened,” Wasserman Schultz said. “This was a tangible way everybody could say we’re all on the same team and show support for how much we care and appreciate our staff.”
The resolution had garnered more than 402 co-sponsors on both sides of the aisle — the fifth most in congressional history. It was held up in the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure for months, however, as GOP leadership debated pursuing a separate memorial.
Last week Boehner decided to abandon alternate memorial plans honoring Zimmerman in favor of supporting the proposed room-naming resolution.
“Some of the resistance was by institutionalists who simply thought there was another approach that was more appropriate,” Wasserman Schultz said. “We didn’t agree ... fortunately the legislative process was allowed to work through the momentum that we built for the legislation.”
“It was after it was sort of publicly known that there was a difference of opinion, I think, that the leadership probably just decided — especially after talking to Gabe’s family and how important to them it was — that a room that’s used by staffers be named for Gabe,” Wasserman Schultz said.
Boehner’s support for the resolution also comes after he received harsh words from Giffords’s husband, Capt. Mark Kelly, for not visiting the injured congresswoman in Houston after the shooting that took the lives of six people, including Zimmerman.
“Considering that she was a member of Congress and he was the highest-ranking member, we thought he’d ask to visit Gabby or at least give a call to see how she was doing,” Kelly, a retired American astronaut, wrote in Gabby: A Story of Courage and Hope. “Our only contact with him had been a simple get-well card he’d sent a few days after Gabby was injured.”
But on Wednesday afternoon in a show of his support, Boehner called on House members to approve Wasserman Schultz’s resolution permanently honoring Zimmerman.
“An attack on one who serves is an attack on all who serve,” Boehner said. “I think it is fitting and appropriate to honor Gabe Zimmerman with a permanent memorial in the United States Capitol.”
Rep. David Schweikert (R-Ariz.), the lead Republican co-sponsor of the resolution, also paid tribute to Zimmerman on the House floor Wednesday.
“Naming something as simple as a room will never be enough for his sacrifice, but it is the right thing to do for Gabe,” he said.
“And 100 years from now, there will be a young congressional staffer taking a first tour of this building. And during that tour they will come across a room with Gabe’s name on it. And when they read about it, they are going to understand the sacrifice that he gave,” Schweikert added.
Speaking on behalf of the Zimmerman family Wednesday, Gabe’s younger brother Ben thanked lawmakers for their efforts.
“We deeply appreciate this show of support by the House of Representatives,” he said, according to a statement.
“We especially would like to thank the offices of Reps. Giffords, Wassermann Schultz and the members of the Arizona delegation for their work in preparing and supporting this bill,” he added. “We also would like to thank the tremendous number of cosponsors on the legislation and the House leadership for bringing this bill to the floor for consideration.”
A formal dedication of the room is planned for early 2012, when a plaque bearing Zimmerman’s likeness will be unveiled.