ABC, Ida Mae Astute, Associated Press
WASHINGTON — The signals are strong. One year after being shot in the head, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords is on a mission to return to the job she so clearly loved.
Her husband and people near the three-term congresswoman say she is highly motivated to recover from her injuries and get back to work in Washington, potentially using her inspirational story as a way to mend political differences in the nation's capital. She faces a May deadline to get on the November ballot, meaning she has a few months to decide her next step.
Her future will depend on a recovery that has progressed in remarkable fashion over the past year as she is now able to walk and talk. Her only interview occurred with ABC's Dianne Sawyer nearly 10 months after the shooting and showed how far she has come, but also how far she has to go. At the time, she did not speak in complete sentences and repeated her words to make her point.
"No, better. Um, better, better," she said when asked about returning to Washington.
The day after the interview ran, her congressional office released an audio recording that showed she had made progress in her communication skills in the two weeks that had elapsed between the interview and its airing. She read from a script and an aide said it took multiple tries before she was comfortable with the result.
"I'm getting stronger. I'm getting better," Giffords said. "There is a lot to say. I will speak better."
Giffords has cast one vote since the shooting. She surprised colleagues in August by returning to Washington to vote for legislation raising the nation's debt ceiling. The debate leading up to the vote had been among the most bitter and partisan of the year. On other votes, she is recorded as not voting.
Giffords' staff consults with her when working on major initiatives, such as trying to fend off the Air Force's efforts to move the 612th Air and Space Operations Center out of Tucson. The staff also works on individual constituent requests, such as helping war veterans and their widows obtain benefits or in securing a Tucson woman's flight out of Egypt during demonstrations in early 2011. Aides say that Giffords now participates in teleconferences with members of her staff about once a week, though the call gets put off occasionally based on her schedule.
Giffords has captivated the nation as she recovers. Going into Christmas week, her office had 24,880 letters that had poured in from all over the world. Students from 428 schools mailed her a get-well card. Many well-wishers send her hand-made gifts, such as quilts, jewelry and paintings. People also send CDs with their favorite music and books with uplifting themes that they hope will cheer her up.
"Almost every day, we get more gifts" said Giffords' spokesman Mark Kimble. "People routinely come in, asking if she's here and if they can talk to her."
On Capitol Hill, colleagues have held several fundraisers on her potential campaign's behalf, raising more than $800,000 between Jan. 1 and Sept. 30, a number that will surely grow when a new quarterly report is filed later this month.
The lawmakers say they're optimistic that she'll come back, but are sensitive about getting ahead of Giffords.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said Thursday that she called Giffords' husband Mark Kelly earlier in the day to emphasize that Democratic lawmakers were thinking of the congresswoman as the anniversary of the shooting approached.
"We look forward to welcoming her back, and hopefully that will be soon," Pelosi said.
Giffords speaks with Rep. Debbie Wasserman Shultz probably more than any other member of Congress. When asked about her colleague's return, the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee said Giffords was focused on her recovery for now.
"She's making a lot of progress. She's doing great," Wasserman Shultz said. "She still has a long way to go."
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