U.S. Capitol room to be named for slain Giffords aide
House to vote on resolution to honor Gabe Zimmerman
Congressional aides, the people who really keep Congress running, are almost never recognized.
House members spent about an hour Wednesday honoring Gabriel Zimmerman, the aide to U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords who was slain in the Jan. 8 shooting spree in Tucson. He was the first congressional staffer killed in the line of duty in the 222-year history of the Congress.
Thursday, the House is expected to name a room in the Capitol in honor of Zimmerman.
“Congressional offices wouldn’t be able to function without people like Gabe, and yet they rarely receive the credit they deserve,” said Rep. Ben Quayle, R-Phoenix, on the House floor Wednesday. “Gabe’s life was cut too short, but he will be forever honored.”
House Resolution 364, which would name a room in the Capitol Visitor Center as the Gabriel Zimmerman Meeting Room, was co-sponsored by 402 of the 435 members of the House, Giffords' spokesman Mark Kimble said Wednesday.
The resolution was introduced by Rep. Debbie Wassermann Schultz, D-Fla., a close friend of Giffords. Rep. David Schweikert of Arizona was the lead Republican co-sponsor.
“Naming something as simple as the room will never be enough, for his sacrifice, but it is the right thing to do,” said Schweikert.
A vote on the measure is scheduled for Thursday and needs only the approval of the House because the room is on the House side of the Capitol, Kimble said.
The resolution was stuck in committee for months, even with 367 co-sponsors at the time, as House Speaker Boehner declined to push the memorial forward.
In October, Wassermann Schultz publicly voiced her frustration that the legislation was being held up. Boehner's office said then that the speaker was considering some other sort of permanent memorial to Zimmerman, but wouldn't move the room-naming forward.
Last week, Boehner added the bill to the House calendar without commenting on it.
“We deeply appreciate this show of support by the House of Representatives,” Ben Zimmerman, Gabriel’s younger brother, said Wednesday on behalf of the Zimmerman family. “This is a wonderful way to memorialize my brother, Gabe."
“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,” Ben Zimmerman 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. Finally, we would like to extended our warmest sympathies to the other victims of the Jan. 8 tragedy and their families for enduring this process of grief and struggle along with us,” he said.
Thirty-year-old Zimmerman was killed Jan. 8 when Jared Loughner allegedly opened fire during Giffords’ "Congress On Your Corner" event in Northwest Tucson. Five others were killed and 13 people were wounded, including Giffords and two other members of her staff.
Zimmerman was Giffords’ community outreach director and one of the first people the congresswoman hired after she was elected to Congress in November 2006. He is the only congressional employee in the nation’s history to be slain in the line of duty, Kimble said.
Zimmerman had become engaged shortly before he was killed.
Seventeen members spoke, including all of Arizona’s House members, and many others offered written statements of support for the resolution, and gratitude for Zimmerman’s sacrifice.
“It is fitting to honor Gabe Zimmerman, who gave his life while faithfully discharging his duties under the Constitution, with a permanent memorial in the United States Capitol,” Speaker of the House John Boehner said.
“An attack on one who serves is an attack on all who serve, and today we honor Gabe’s memory and his service to the House of Representatives,” Boehner said.
“On Jan. 8 in Tucson, tragedy struck this country in a shooting that shocked our nation and tore through the fabric of the congressional community," Wasserman Shultz said.
“Six people died that horrific day, including congressional staffer Gabriel Zimmerman. He was a public servant who made the ultimate sacrifice for his country while doing what he loved – helping Arizonans,” she said.
Rep. Raúl Grijalva, D-Ariz., said the move not only honors Zimmerman, but other congressional staffers as well.
“In very rightly honoring Gabe Zimmerman’s life and selfless work for his country today, we also honor the many congressional staffers who work invisibly to improve the lives of the people they serve,” Grijalva said.
“Gabe was one of many unsung heroes doing five things at once every day to make this a better place to live without asking for recognition. I’m very honored to support this memorial to his life and his work on behalf of his community, which meant a great deal to more people than we’ll ever know,” he said.
Giffords, who is still recovering from her injuries, was not present for debate on the Zimmerman resolution but her office announced Wednesday that there will be a formal dedication of the “Gabriel Zimmerman Meeting Room” and unveiling of the plaque in early 2012.
Cronkite News Service’s Cassondra Strande contributed to this story from Washington, D.C.