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Giffords casts final vote, resigns from Congress
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Gabrielle Giffords

Giffords casts final vote, resigns from Congress

Pelosi: 'Brightest star Congress has ever seen'

  • Speaker of the House John Boehner holds former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords hand after she handed him her letter of resignation Wednesday.
    Speaker of the House John Boehner holds former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords hand after she handed him her letter of resignation Wednesday.
  • Former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords looks at her mother and husband Mark Kelly from the floor of the House on Wednesday morning.
    Former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords looks at her mother and husband Mark Kelly from the floor of the House on Wednesday morning.
  • U.S. Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Mesa, holds Gabrielle Giffords hand as her close friend U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Shultz reads Giffords' letter of resignation to the House on Wednesday.
    U.S. Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Mesa, holds Gabrielle Giffords hand as her close friend U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Shultz reads Giffords' letter of resignation to the House on Wednesday.
  • An emotional Mark Kelly listens to U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Shultz speak about Gabrielle Giffords on Wednesday.
    An emotional Mark Kelly listens to U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Shultz speak about Gabrielle Giffords on Wednesday.

As her colleagues teared and cheered, U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords submitted her resignation from Congress on Wednesday, as the House passed her bill on ultralight smuggling on a 408-0 vote.

Giffords resigned her office effective at the end of the day.

"I have given all of myself to being able to walk back onto the House floor this year to represent Arizona's 8th Congressional District. However, today I know that now is not the time. I have more work to do on my recovery before I can again serve in elected office," she wrote.

"This past year my colleagues and staff have worked to make sure my constituents were represented in Congress," Giffords wrote. "But if I can’t return, my district deserves to elect a U.S. Representative who can give 100 percent to the job now."

Surrounded by Congressional leadership, Giffords stood near a lectern in the well of the House as her friend U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Shultz read the congresswoman's letter of resignation.

She held hands with the Florida Democrat, and then with Arizona Republican  Rep. Jeff Flake as her resignation was read into the record.

"It will always be one of the great treasures of my life to have met Gabrielle Giffords and to have served with her in this body," a crying Wasserman Schultz said before reading the letter.

"This is only a pause in (her) public service and she will return one day," Wasserman Schultz said.

The 41-year-old Arizona Democrat's letter promised a return to public life at some point.

"Everyday, I am working hard. I will recover and will return, and we will work together again, for Arizona and for all Americans," it ended.

"Always I fought for what I thought was right. But never did I question the character of those with whom I disagreed. Never did I let pass an opportunity to join hands with someone just because he or she held different ideals," Giffords wrote.

After the letter was read, Giffords climbed the rostrum to deliver a copy to House Speaker John Boehner, who held her hands, hugged her and kissed her cheek.

The entire House gave her a prolonged standing ovation as she handed in her resignation.

Giffords was crying as she left the Speaker's platform. In her last official act as a member of Congress, she then cast a vote in favor of her bill, H.R.3801 – Ultralight Aircraft Smuggling Prevention Act.

Prior to the vote, Giffords entered the House of Representatives to sustained applause from her colleagues, who crowded around the well of the chamber to offer her farewell embraces.

The brightest star Congress has ever seen

During a series of tributes, her colleagues expressed admiration for her work and hopes for her future public service.

As Giffords sat in the front row of the House, Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said she was "the brightest star among us, the brightest star Congress has ever seen."

Giffords' "message of bipartisanship is one that we all should honor and emulate," Pelosi said. "She has brought the word 'dignity' to new heights."

Pelosi recognized Giffords' mother, Gloria, sitting in the gallery. Giffords, handkerchief clutched in her right hand, blew her mother a kiss. Giffords' husband, retired astronaut Mark Kelly, also watched from the chamber balcony.

"We are inspired, hopeful and blessed for the incredible progress that Gabby has made in her recovery," said Majority Leader Eric Cantor.

Giffords' "courage, strength and downright fortitude are an inspiration," the Virginia Republican said.

"Though Gabby may be leaving Washington today, I know this won't be the last we see of her or Mark," he said.

Earlier in the morning, urging his colleagues to pass the ultralight smuggling bill, Flake said "those who reside on the border ... appreciate so deeply the work she has done."

The bill extends "anti-smuggling laws to ultralight aircraft now used by traffickers to move illegal drugs across the U.S.-Mexican border," Flake wrote yesterday.

As the vote on the bill was underway, a joke by Boehner went unnoticed by most on the House floor.

"The chair would remind all members to be in proper business attire when you come to the floor of the House," he said in a smiling reference to Giffords' sneakers.

During the tributes to the retiring congresswoman, Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer said "our beloved colleague Gabrielle Giffords was injured on the field in the exercise of (our) democracy" when she was shot while speaking with constituents a year ago.

"I love Gabby Giffords," he said.

"Gabby's beauty is in the heart, in the soul, in the spirit. The House of Representatives of America has been made proud by this extraordinary daughter of this House, who served so well during her tenure here, who felt so deeply about her constituents and cared so much for her country," Hoyer said.

"Gabby, we love you, we have missed you," he said.

"And I miss you," she replied.

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Giffords' ultralight smuggling law

H.R.3801 – Ultralight Aircraft Smuggling Prevention Act was passed Wednesday, 408-0, as Gabrielle Giffords resigned from Congress.

In 2010, Giffords wrote in a guest opinion published by TucsonSentinel.com that the Ultralight Smuggling Prevention Act would "crack down on smugglers who use small, low-flying aircraft to sneak illegal drugs into our country."

"If it becomes law, individuals caught smuggling using ultralights can be prosecuted for using the aircraft in addition to being prosecuted for the drugs in their possession. If they are convicted of this new offense, they can receive a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. This bill will establish the same penalties for smuggling drugs on ultralights as for those who smuggle using airplanes or automobiles," she wrote.

The law passed the House in the last Congress by a 412-3 vote, but failed to proceed in the Senate.

Last year, the Senate passed the bill, but was blocked by Constitutional rules that mandate laws containing tax provisions must originate in the House.

The bill was the second Giffords has introduced in this session of Congress.

Just two days before she was shot last year, she called on her colleagues to cut their pay by 5 percent. That measure did not advance.

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