Gabrielle Dee "Gabby" Giffords (born June 8, 1970) is an American politician from the U.S. state of Arizona. As a Democratic member of the United States House of Representatives, she represented Arizona's 8th congressional district from January 3, 2007, until her resignation on January 25, 2012, after surviving an assassination attempt that left her with a severe brain injury. She is the third woman in Arizona's history to be elected to the U.S. Congress. Considered a "Blue Dog" Democrat, her focus on health care reform and illegal immigration were sources of attention for those opposed to her candidacy and made her a recipient of criticism from various conservative groups.
|Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Arizona's 8th district
January 3, 2007 – January 25, 2012
|Preceded by||Jim Kolbe|
|Succeeded by||Ron Barber|
|Member of the Arizona Senate
from the 28th district
January 8, 2003 – December 1, 2005
|Preceded by||Randall Gnant|
|Succeeded by||Paula Aboud|
|Member of the Arizona House of Representatives
from the 13th district
January 1, 2001 – January 8, 2003
|Preceded by||Andy Nichols|
|Succeeded by||Steve Gallardo|
|Born||Gabrielle Dee Giffords
June 8, 1970
Tucson, Arizona, U.S.
|Spouse(s)||Mark Kelly (m. 2007)|
|Relatives||Gwyneth Paltrow (second cousin)
Jake Paltrow (second cousin)
|Education||Scripps College (BA)
Cornell University (MRP)
Giffords is a native of Tucson, Arizona, and a graduate of Scripps College and Cornell University. Prior to her election to the United States Congress, Giffords served in the Arizona House of Representatives from 2001 until 2003 and the Arizona State Senate from 2003 until 2005, when she resigned to run for the house seat held by then-Congressman Jim Kolbe. She also worked as an associate for regional economic development for Price Waterhouse in New York City, and as CEO of El Campo Tire Warehouses, a local automotive chain owned by her grandfather. She is married to former astronaut and Space Shuttle Commander Mark E. Kelly.
On January 8, 2011, just a week into her third term, Giffords was a victim of an assassination attempt near Tucson, at a Safeway supermarket where she was meeting publicly with constituents. She was critically injured by a gunshot wound to the head; six people were killed and thirteen injured in the shooting, among them federal judge John Roll and a 9-year-old child, Christina-Taylor Green. Giffords was later brought to a rehabilitation facility in Houston, Texas, where she recovered some of her ability to walk, speak, read and write. On May 16, 2011, Giffords traveled to Kennedy Space Center to watch the launch of STS-134, the final flight of Space Shuttle Endeavour, which was commanded by her husband Mark Kelly.
On August 1, 2011, Giffords returned to the House floor to vote and was greeted with a standing ovation. On January 22, 2012, Giffords announced her resignation from her congressional seat in order to concentrate on recovering from her wounds, but promised to return to public service in the future. She attended President Obama's State of the Union address on January 24, and appeared on the floor of the House on January 25, 2012, where she formally submitted her resignation to a standing ovation and accolades from her colleagues and the leadership of the House.
Early life, education, and business career
Gabrielle Dee Giffords was born in and grew up in Tucson, Arizona; her parents were Gloria Kay (née Fraser) and Spencer J. Giffords. She was raised in a mixed religious environment, as her mother was a Christian Scientist and her father was Jewish. Her paternal grandfather, Akiba Hornstein, was a Jewish emigrant from Lithuania who changed his name to Giffords to avoid anti-Semitism in the United States. Through her father, Giffords is a second cousin of actress Gwyneth Paltrow and director Jake Paltrow.
Giffords graduated from Tucson's University High School. She is a former Girl Scout. She received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Sociology and Latin American History from Scripps College in California in 1993; and spent a year as a Fulbright Scholar in Chihuahua, Mexico. She returned to graduate school, earning a Master's degree in Regional Planning from Cornell University in 1996. She focused her studies on Mexican-American relations.
Giffords worked as an associate for regional economic development at Price Waterhouse in New York City. In 1996, she became president and CEO of El Campo Tire Warehouses, a local chain of auto service centers founded by her grandfather. The business was sold to Goodyear Tire in 2000. At the time of the sale, she commented on the difficulties local businesses face when competing against large national firms.
Giffords was elected to the Arizona House of Representatives and served from 2001 to 2003. She was elected to the Arizona Senate in the fall of 2002, and at the time was the youngest woman elected to that body. She took office in January 2003 and was re-elected in 2004. She resigned from the Arizona Senate on December 1, 2005, in preparation for her congressional campaign.
In early 2005, Giffords observed that "the 2004 election took its toll on our bipartisan coalition" and that as a result "a number of significant problems will receive far less attention than they deserve." She highlighted among these, the lack of high-paying jobs or necessary infrastructure, rapid growth, and inward migration that threatened the environment and "strain[ed] […] education, health care, and transportation," and unresolved problems such as Students First; Arnold v. Sarn; repayments due under Ladewig v. Arizona; the No Child Left Behind mandate; low educational achievement; health care costs; and the demands of the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System. She noted that Arizona was not alone in facing such challenges.
Expanding health care access was an issue of interest for Giffords when she served in the legislature. She also pushed for bills related to mental health and was named by the Mental Health Association of Arizona as the 2004 Legislator of the Year. Giffords earned the Sierra Club's Most Valuable Player award.
In the legislature, Giffords worked on the bipartisan Children's Caucus, which sought to improve education and health care for Arizona's children. Critics of this plan argued that it amounted to taxpayer-funded daycare. She worked with Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano to promote all-day kindergarten. Giffords supported raising more money for schools "through sponsorship of supplemental state aid through bonds and tax credits that could be used for school supplies." She was awarded Arizona Family Literacy's Outstanding Legislator for 2003.
U.S. House of Representatives
Giffords launched her first candidacy for the U.S. Congress on January 24, 2006. The campaign received national attention early on as a likely pick-up for the Democratic Party. Prominent Democrats, including Tom Daschle, Robert Reich, Janet Napolitano, and Bill Clinton, endorsed Giffords. EMILY's List endorsed Giffords early in the campaign cycle. The Sierra Club and the Arizona Education Association also endorsed her. On September 12, 2006, Giffords won her party's nomination in the primary election.
Her Republican opponent in the general election was Randy Graf, a conservative former state senator known for his enforcement-only position on immigration and illegal aliens. Graf had run against Jim Kolbe in the 2004 GOP primary and had announced his candidacy in 2006 before Kolbe announced his retirement. The Republican establishment was somewhat cool toward Graf, believing he might be too conservative for the district. The national GOP took the unusual step of endorsing one of the more moderate candidates in the primary. Graf won anyway, helped by a split in the Republican moderate vote between two candidates.
Not long after the primary, Congressional Quarterly changed its rating of the race to "Leans Democrat". By late September, the national GOP had pulled most of its funding, effectively conceding the seat to Giffords. Giffords won the race on November 7, 2006, with 54 percent of the vote. Graf received 42 percent. The rest of the vote went to minor candidates. Giffords's victory was portrayed as evidence that Americans are accepting towards comprehensive immigration reform. She was the first Jewish woman elected to Congress from Arizona.
In 2008, Giffords was elected to a second term. Republican Tim Bee, a childhood classmate and former colleague in the Arizona State Senate, ran against her. Bee was the President of the Arizona State Senate and considered a strong challenger in this race. Despite native son John McCain running as the Republican presidential candidate, Giffords was reelected with 56.20 percent of the vote to Bee's 41.45 percent.
On November 5, 2010, Giffords was declared the victor after a close race against Republican Jesse Kelly. Kelly, an Iraq War veteran (and not related to Mark Kelly), was listed as a top-ten Tea Party candidate to watch by Politico, and described by azcentral.com as highly conservative even compared to Sarah Palin. Giffords had been targeted for defeat by Sarah Palin's political action committee, SarahPAC.
Following the November 2006 election, Giffords was sworn in as a congresswoman on January 3, 2007. She was the third woman in Arizona's history to be elected to serve in the U.S. Congress. In her inaugural speech on the floor of the House of Representatives, Giffords advocated a comprehensive immigration reform package, including modern technology to secure the border, more border patrol agents, tough employer sanctions for businesses that knowingly hire illegal immigrants, and a guest-worker program. In her first month in office, Giffords voted in favor of increased federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research; raising the minimum wage; endorsing the 9/11 Commission recommendations; new rules for the House of Representatives targeting ethical issues; and the repeal of $14 billion of subsidies to big oil companies, in favor of renewable energy subsidies and the founding of the Strategic Renewable Energy Reserve.
During the 2007 session of Congress, Giffords introduced a bill (H.R. 1441) that forbids the sale of F-14 aircraft parts on the open market. Giffords advocated for a national day of recognition for cowboys as one of her first actions. She voted for the contentious May 2007 Iraq Emergency Supplemental Spending bill, saying, "I cannot, in good conscience, allow the military to run out of money while American servicemen and women are being attacked every day". She has also been a Girl Scout supporter for many years. On April 21, 2007, Giffords hosted her third "Congress on Your Corner" in Tucson, Arizona, and kicked things off by speaking to the Girl Scouts of Southern Arizona, Sahuaro Council.
Giffords was a member of the Blue Dog Coalition and the New Democrat Coalition. She was a co-founder of the Congressional Motorcycle Safety Caucus. Until her husband's retirement, she was the only member of the U.S. Congress whose spouse was an active duty member of the U.S. military. She is also known as a strong proponent of solar energy as well as for her work to secure the Mexico–United States border.
On January 8, 2011, Giffords was shot in the head outside a Safeway grocery store in Casas Adobes, Arizona, a suburban area northwest of Tucson, during her first "Congress on Your Corner" (a public opportunity for constituents to speak directly with their representatives) gathering of the year. A man ran up to the crowd and began firing a 9mm pistol with a 33-round magazine, hitting 19 people, and killing six. A 20th person was injured at the scene, but not by gunfire.
The shooter, Jared Lee Loughner, was detained by bystanders until he was taken into police custody. As the shooting took place at a US government event, and federal employees were attacked, federal offenses were committed. Federal officials charged Loughner on the next day with killing federal government employees, attempting to assassinate a member of Congress, and attempting to kill federal employees. After eventually facing more than 50 federal criminal charges, Loughner pleaded guilty to 19 of them in a plea bargain to avoid a death sentence.
Giffords's intern, Daniel Hernández Jr., provided first-aid assistance to her immediately after she was wounded, and is credited with saving her life. She was quickly evacuated to the University Medical Center of Tucson in critical condition, though she was still conscious and "following commands" at the time.
On the same day doctors performed emergency surgery to extract skull fragments and a small amount of necrotic tissue from her brain. The bullet passed through Giffords's head without crossing the midline of the brain, where the most critical injuries typically result. Part of her skull was removed to avoid further damage to the brain from pressure caused by swelling. Doctors who first treated Giffords said the bullet entered the back of her head and exited through the front of her skull, but physicians later concluded that it had traveled in the opposite direction.
Giffords initially was placed in an induced coma to allow her brain to rest. She was able to respond to simple commands when periodically awakened, but was unable to speak as she was on a ventilator. Nancy Pelosi said Giffords's husband Mark Kelly acknowledged that there is a "rough road ahead" for his wife's recovery, but was encouraged by her responsiveness, which included the ability to signal with her hand and move both arms. U.S. Army neurologist Geoffrey Ling of the Uniformed Services University in Bethesda, Maryland, was sent to Tucson to consult on Giffords's condition. Ling stated, "Her prognosis for maintaining the function that she has is very good. It's over 50 percent." On January 11, neurosurgeon G. Michael Lemole Jr. said that Giffords's sedation had been reduced and that she could breathe on her own. On January 12, President Barack Obama visited Giffords at the medical center and publicly stated in an evening memorial ceremony that she had "opened her eyes for the first time" that day. Shortly after the shootings, some questions were raised by the media as to whether Giffords could be removed from office under a state law that allows a public office to be declared vacant if the officeholder is absent for three months, but a spokesperson for the Arizona secretary of state said the statute "doesn't apply to federal offices" and was, therefore, not relevant.
As Giffords's status improved, by mid-January she began simple physical therapy, including sitting up with the assistance of hospital staff and moving her legs upon command. On January 15, surgeons performed a tracheotomy, replacing the ventilator tube with a smaller one inserted through Giffords's throat to assist independent breathing. Ophthalmologist Lynn Polonski surgically repaired Giffords's damaged eye socket, with additional reconstructive surgery to follow. Giffords's condition improved from "critical" to "serious" on January 17, and to "good" on January 25. She was transferred on January 21 to the Memorial Hermann Medical Center in Houston, Texas, where she subsequently moved to the TIRR Memorial Hermann to undergo a program of physical therapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy. Medical experts' initial assessment in January was that Giffords's recovery could take from several months to more than one year. Upon her arrival in Houston, her doctors were optimistic, saying she has "great rehabilitation potential".
On March 12, 2011, Giffords's husband informed her that six other people had been killed in the attack on her, but he did not identify who they were until months later. In late April, Giffords's doctors reported that her physical, cognitive, and language production abilities had improved significantly, placing her in the top 5 percent of patients recovering from similar injuries. She was walking under supervision with perfect control of her left arm and leg, and able to write with her left hand. She was able to read and understand, and spoke in short phrases. With longer efforts, she was able to produce more complex sentences.
From early in her recovery, Giffords's husband had expressed confidence that she would be able to travel to the Kennedy Space Center, Florida, to witness the launch of his final Space Shuttle mission, STS-134, which was originally scheduled for April 2011. On April 25, Giffords's doctors gave her medical clearance to travel to Florida for the launch, originally scheduled for April 29. She went to Florida where she was to watch from a private family area, without any public appearance or photography. The launch of STS-134 was delayed due to mechanical problems, and Giffords and Kelly returned to Houston after meeting with President Obama, who had also planned to see the launch with his family at Kennedy Space Center (KSC).
After continuing her rehabilitation therapy in Houston, Giffords returned to KSC for her husband's launch on May 16, 2011. Kelly wore his wife's wedding ring into space, which she had exchanged for his.
Giffords underwent cranioplasty surgery on May 18, 2011, to replace part of her skull that had been removed in January to permit her brain to swell after the gunshot to her head. Surgeons replaced the bone with a piece of molded hard plastic, fixed with tiny screws; they expected that her skull would eventually fuse with the plastic's porous material. At that point, Giffords no longer needed to wear the helmet that she had been wearing to protect her brain from further injury. On June 9, 2011, Giffords's aide Pia Carusone announced that while Giffords's comprehension appeared to be "close to normal, if not normal", she was not yet using complete sentences. On June 12, two photos of Giffords taken on May 17 were released, the first since the shooting. On June 15, Giffords was released from the hospital to return home, where she continued speech, music, physical and occupational therapy.
On August 1, she made her first public appearance on the House floor to vote in favor of raising the debt limit ceiling. She was met with a standing ovation and accolades from her fellow members of Congress. A Giffords spokesman, Mark Kimble, stated in August 2011 that the congresswoman was walking without a cane and was writing left-handed, as she did not have full use of her right side. On October 6, Giffords traveled to Washington for her husband's retirement ceremony, where she presented him with the Distinguished Flying Cross medal. She returned to her husband's Texas home. On October 25, she travelled to Asheville, North Carolina, for intensive rehabilitation treatments, ending November 4. In Kelly's memoir, Gabby: A Story of Courage and Hope, released in November 2011, he reported that Giffords would return to Congress. She continues to struggle with language and has lost fifty percent of her vision in both eyes.
On September 6, 2012, Giffords led the Pledge of Allegiance at that evening's meeting of the Democratic National Convention. In January 2013 Giffords still had difficulty speaking and walking, and her right arm was paralyzed. She continued to undergo speech and physical therapy.
On January 8, 2014, Giffords marked the three-year anniversary of the shooting by going skydiving. The jump garnered a lot of support. Giffords said on an interview with the Today show, "Oh, wonderful sky. Gorgeous mountain. Blue skies. I like a lot. A lot of fun. Peaceful, so peaceful."
Resignation from Congress
On January 22, 2012, Giffords announced in a video statement that she intended to resign her seat so that she could continue to focus on her recovery. She attended President Obama's 2012 State of the Union Address on January 24, and formally submitted her resignation on January 25. Appearing on the floor of the House, after the last bill she sponsored was brought to a vote and unanimously passed, Giffords was lauded by members of Congress and the majority and minority leaders who spoke in tribute to her strength and accomplishment in an unusual farewell ceremony. Her letter of resignation was read on her behalf by her close friend and fellow Democratic representative, Debbie Wasserman Schultz.
|Democratic||Gabrielle Dee Giffords||137,655||54.26%|
|Libertarian||David F. Nolan||4,849||1.91%|
|Democratic||Gabrielle Dee Giffords (Incumbent)||179,629||54.72%||+0.46%|
|Democratic||Gabrielle Dee Giffords (Incumbent)||138,280||48.76%||−5.96%|
Giffords voted against President Bush's Economic Stimulus Act of 2008. Giffords was one of 60 lawmakers who voted against the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 during its first House vote before switching to a yes vote in its second House vote, and she voted for the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.
In August 2011 she voted in favor of raising the debt ceiling.
Giffords argues that Americans are competing on a global level and that this competition starts in the classroom. She is a critic of the No Child Left Behind law, viewing it as an unfunded federal mandate. She supports public schools and their improved efficiency.
Giffords strongly supports renewable energy, in particular solar energy, as a top public policy priority.
In September 2007, she published a report titled: The Community Solar Energy Initiative, Solar Energy in Southern Arizona, observing that Arizona has enough sunshine to power the entire United States. It reviews current energy usage and discusses how to increase the production of solar electricity. On August 1, 2008, she wrote to congressional leaders regarding tax credits that were set to expire, saying that failure to extend the scheme would be extremely harmful to the renewable energy industry "just as it is beginning to take off."
Immigration and border security
Arizona's 8th Congressional District is one of ten in the country bordering Mexico. Giffords has stated that the Arizona SB 1070 legislation is a "clear calling that the federal government needs to do a better job" and says that she hopes the legislation acts as a wake-up call to the federal government. However, she stopped short of supporting the law itself, saying that it "does nothing to secure our border" and that it "stands in direct contradiction to our past and, as a result, threatens our future." She also claimed that SB1070 kept Arizona from attracting students and businesses.
On August 31, 2010, Giffords praised the arrival of National Guard troops on the border: "Arizonans have waited a long time for the deployment of the National Guard in our state. Their arrival represents a renewed national commitment to protecting our border communities from drug cartels and smugglers."
Giffords worked to secure passage of the August 2010 bill to fund more Border Patrol agents and surveillance technology for Arizona's border with Mexico. The legislation passed the House of Representatives only to be sent back by the U.S. Senate with reduced funding. Ultimately a $600-million bill was passed and signed into law. The bill was over $100 million less than Giffords fought for, but she said, "This funding signals a stronger federal commitment to protect those Americans who live and work near the border."
In 2008, Giffords introduced legislation that would have increased the cap on the H-1B visa from 65,000 per year to 130,000 per year. If that were not sufficient, according to her legislation, the cap would have been increased to 180,000 per year. The bill would have allowed, at most, 50% of employees at any given company with at least 50 employees to be H-1B guest workers. Giffords said the bill would help high-tech companies in southern Arizona, some of which rely on H-1B employees. However, Giffords's bill was never voted on by the House of Representatives.
In 2008, before being shot, Giffords opposed Washington D.C. prohibitions on possession of handguns in the home and having usable firearms there, signing an amicus brief with the U.S. Supreme Court to support its overturn.
In January 2013, Giffords and her husband Mark Kelly started a political action committee called Americans for Responsible Solutions whose mission is to promote gun control legislation with elected officials and the general public. The couple supports "keeping guns out of the hands of dangerous people like criminals, terrorists, and the mentally ill".
Giffords was a surprise witness at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on gun violence on January 30, 2013. In a halting voice, she called for Congress to pass tougher laws on guns, saying "too many children are dying." Giffords is right-handed; her speech therapist had to write out her statement for her since her right arm was paralyzed in the shooting.
Since her shooting Giffords became an advocate for anti-gun violence causes. In 2017, after the Las Vegas shooting that killed 58 and injured 546, she implored lawmakers to take action, saying "she knows the horror of gun violence all too well".
Giffords married U.S. Navy Captain and NASA astronaut Mark E. Kelly on November 10, 2007. Kelly was the Space Shuttle's pilot on the STS-108 and STS-121 missions, and was the commander of STS-124 and STS-134.
Giffords is a former member of the Arizona regional board of the Anti-Defamation League. After Hurricane Katrina struck in August 2005, Giffords spent time as a volunteer in Houston, Texas, in relief efforts for hurricane victims. She wrote about her experience in the Tucson Citizen.
Giffords is an avid reader, and was featured on NPR's Weekend Edition on July 9, 2006, talking about her love of books. She was periodically interviewed in 2007 together with Illinois Republican Peter Roskam on NPR's All Things Considered. The series focused on their experiences as freshman members of the 110th Congress.
A joint memoir by Giffords and Kelly, Gabby: A Story of Courage and Hope, with co-author Jeffrey Zaslow, was published on November 15, 2011. Giffords and Kelly were interviewed by ABC's Diane Sawyer in their first joint interview since the shooting, which aired on a special edition of 20/20 on November 14, 2011, in conjunction with the book's publication.
It was announced by Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus, on February 10, 2012, that the next U.S. Navy littoral combat ship would be named the USS Gabrielle Giffords (LCS-10). Rep. Giffords, still recovering from injuries sustained in the 2011 assassination attempt, attended the ship's keel-laying ceremony and etched her initials into a plate welded into the ship.
USS Gabrielle Giffords was christened at the Austal USA shipyard in Mobile, Alabama on June 13, 2015. Rep. Giffords attended the christening ceremony, along with Second Lady of the United States Jill Biden, who served as the ship's sponsor. The ship was commissioned on 12 June 2017 at Port of Galveston, Texas.
Some commentators questioned the decision to name the ship after Giffords, with two retired U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps officers criticizing a perceived recent trend toward naming ships for political reasons. In response, some commentators have noted that several ships in the U.S. Navy, including the Henry M. Jackson, Carl Vinson, John C. Stennis, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, and George Bush were named for prominent politicians who were still alive at the time of the naming. A subsequent Navy report on the naming noted that Secretary Mabus considered honoring Giffords and other victims of the Tucson shooting by naming LCS-10 after the city of Tucson, consistent with current practice of naming littoral combat ships for U.S. cities, but this was not possible because the USS Tucson (SSN-770), an active Los Angeles-class submarine, currently bears the name.
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Ms. Giffords is the first Jewish woman elected to the House from her state.
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- U.S. Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords at the Wayback Machine (archived July 28, 2011) official U.S. House site (archive 2011)
- Giffords Community Solar Energy Initiative at the Wayback Machine (archived July 22, 2011)
- Congresswoman Giffords Action Plan to Improve Border Security at the Wayback Machine (archived July 22, 2011)
- Gabrielle Giffords for U.S. Congress official campaign site
- Biography at the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress
- Profile at Project Vote Smart
- Financial information (federal office) at the Federal Election Commission
- Profile at SourceWatch
- Giffords's announcement of her resignation, January 22, 2012
- Americans for Responsible Solutions, Giffords's non-profit organization.
- Gabrielle Giffords Video produced by Makers: Women Who Make America
- Gabrielle Giffords at TED
|Arizona House of Representatives|
|Member of the Arizona House of Representatives
from the 13th district
|Member of the Arizona Senate
from the 28th district
|U.S. House of Representatives|
|Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Arizona's 8th congressional district