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Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, the three-term lawmaker from Arizona who was shot in the head during a mass shooting last year, said Sunday she will be stepping down from Congress to focus on her recovery.
“I have more work to do on my recovery so to do what is best for Arizona, I will step down this week,” the Democratic lawmaker told supporters in a video message posted on her website. “I’m getting better, every day.” Her office said she plans to attend the State of the Union address Tuesday night and will resign sometime after that. Giffords’ ability to speak was damaged by the attack and in the video she speaks clearly but in a slow, halting voice.
Giffords was severely wounded when a gunman opened fire at an event where she was meeting with constituents outside of a supermarket in Tucson on Jan. 8, 2011. Six people were killed, including a federal judge, and 12 were wounded.
“She's recovering very well, but she's nowhere close to where she would want to be to function in her public professional life,” said Ross Zimmerman, whose son was among those killed in the shooting, according to the Arizona Republic. “It was clear from what we saw that she wasn't at the place where she could do a debate, or get around on her own ... or interact as freely with people as she would like.”
The suspect, Jared Lee Loughner, 23, pleaded not guilty and is undergoing psychiatric treatment. “He has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and is being forcibly medicated at a Missouri prison facility in an effort by authorities to make him mentally ready for trial,” reports the Associated Press.
Giffords’ resignation will force a special election to fill her seat. Politico notes that Gov. Janice Brewer will have 72 hours from the day the seat is left vacant to call a special election. The party primary then has to be held 80-90 days after the date of the vacancy, followed by a general election 50-60 days later. The Washington Post notes speculation that Giffords’ husband, astronaut Mark Kelly, could be a candidate. But Politico says a “longtime Giffords political adviser” said Kelly would not run.
The New York Times points out that Giffords hinted she might return to public life: “I will return, and we will work together for Arizona and this great country,” she said.