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Giffords' political future still uncertain

By Kevin Freking

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, Aug. 2 2011 12:15 p.m. MDT

In this image from House Television, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., appears on the floor of the House of Representatives Monday, Aug. 1, 2011, in Washington. Giffords was on the floor for the first time since her shooting earlier this year, attending a vote on the debt standoff compromise.

House Television, Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Aides to Rep. Gabrielle Giffords said Tuesday she wants to return to her job in Washington if her physical and mental recovery allows it.

A day after she stunned colleagues by appearing on the House floor to vote for the debt ceiling deal, Giffords planned to return to Houston on Tuesday after meeting privately with staff. It's unclear when she'll return.

Spokesman C.J. Karamargin told The Associated Press that she is eager to return work, but can't make any decisions yet about whether to seek re-election in 2012.

"There's no question Gabby Giffords wants to return to her job fulltime when she's able to devote her complete attention to it," Karamargin said. "Going to Washington to cast a vote that's absolutely critical to the country doesn't change the fact she still has work to do in her recovery."

Giffords voted for the bill, which passed 269-161.

Karamargin said Giffords grew frustrated watching colleagues struggle to reach agreement on how to raise the debt ceiling.

"At one point last week, when the debate reached one of its many impasses, Gabby said, 'Just get it done,'" Karamargin said. "I think that 'just-get-it-done' sentiment is something a lot of people shared. That ultimately is what motivated her to go to Washington and participate in this historic vote."

Giffords' entrance, with just minutes remaining in the vote, surprised lawmakers and added even more drama to a high-stakes day.

The Arizona Democrat responded to the attention with a smile, blowing kisses and mouthing the words "thank you" several times.

"We were just hugging. Girl hugs," said Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi.

Other colleagues, surprised and joyful, made their way to greet Giffords as she was enveloped in a cluster of Democratic lawmakers.

Giffords, 41, used one hand to greet some, the other by her side.

Her hair was dark and closely cropped, and she wore glasses, a far-different image from the one Americans saw seven months ago when she was sworn in for a third term by House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio.

"It was one of the most thrilling moments for all of us to see this real heroine return to the House," Pelosi said, "and to do so at such a dramatic time."

Giffords' return raised questions about when she might be able to return full time and whether she would seek-re-election. The latest financial reports show the Arizona Democrat with more than $787,000 in the bank at the end of June, thanks to friends and colleagues who have raised money to ensure she has the resources for a campaign.

"She still has rehabilitation to go through, and a lot of recovery. So she's not ready to come back full time," said Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., a friend of Giffords and chair of the Democratic National Committee. "But she wanted her district to have its voice here on probably the most important vote we'll cast this Congress."

Giffords exited the House chamber by the east door, leaning heavily on an aide as she walked with obvious difficulty. Her husband, astronaut Mark Kelly, accompanied her. Police had cleared a path through a mob of reporters, and Giffords did not respond to questions and greetings.

Near the doorway to the House, Vice President Joe Biden greeted Giffords and marveled at her return.

"She's remarkable. Will matters," Biden said in an interview. "She's the embodiment of a strong, strong, strong woman. Think about what that woman's been through, and think about her determination."

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