US & Canada

Profile: Gabrielle Giffords

Gabrielle Giffords
Gabrielle Giffords blew kisses and thanked colleagues as they cheered her return to Capitol Hill

US Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords has made a surprise appearance on Capitol Hill almost seven months after being shot in the head at a constituency event in Tuscon, Arizona.

She attended a House of Representatives session to vote on a bill to avoid a federal debt default.

Critically injured on 8 January 2011 when a bullet entered the back of her skull and exited through the front during an attack that left six other people dead, Ms Giffords's recovery has been described as "remarkable" by doctors.

By May, she was able to travel to Florida to see her astronaut husband Mark Kelly launch the shuttle, Endeavour. She underwent surgery for a cranial implant just days later.

At her appearance in the House of Representatives on 1 August, Ms Giffords was able to move through the chamber with minimal assistance and thanked colleagues as they cheered her return to political life.

'Trailblazer'

Ms Giffords was born and raised in Tucson, Arizona, near the district she has represented for more than four years.

The 41-year-old is described as a trailblazer - the youngest woman elected to Arizona's state senate, the first Jewish representative from the state and its third woman to be elected to Congress.

Ms Giffords, a Democrat, is proud of her south-western roots, professing her love of trucks and motorcycles, having served as co-chair of the motorcycle caucus on Capitol Hill. She has said one of her dreams is to ride a motorbike to Argentina.

One of her first acts in Congress was to push for a national day in recognition of cowboys. She is also a gun owner.

Rising star

Ms Giffords began her career working for the family tyre company after her father fell ill. At the time she was a registered Republican with no political ambitions.

She sold the business before running for state office.

Mark Kelly has piloted space shuttles Endeavour and Discovery

A former Fulbright scholar who studied in Mexico, she has a masters degree in urban planning from Cornell University.

Considered a rising star in the Democratic Party, the New York Times predicted that Ms Giffords would one day run for Arizona's governorship.

Robert Reich, who served as President Bill Clinton's labour secretary in the 1990s, once told the Arizona Republic newspaper that she could run for the highest office in the land.

"I wouldn't be surprised if she's the first or second female president of the United States. She's of that calibre," he said.

Ms Giffords was elected to the Arizona legislature in 2000, when she was just 30.

After two years in the state House of Representatives, Ms Giffords successfully ran for the state Senate where she served for six years. She resigned in order to run for national office.

She is well known in her district for holding hundreds of meetings there each year.

She met her husband - Nasa astronaut Mark Kelly, who has piloted the space shuttles Endeavour and Discovery - on a fellowship programme for young US and Chinese leaders in 2003.

The couple married in 2007, and her wedding ring is inscribed: "You're the closest to heaven that I've ever been." He flew from his Houston base to be at her hospital bedside after the shooting.

Capt Kelly has a twin brother who has also been an astronaut onboard the International Space Station. He has two children from a previous marriage.

Blue Dog

Politically, Ms Giffords is a centrist, as are most Democrats from her state.

She is part of the so-called "Blue Dog" caucus in the House of Representatives, a group of fiscally conservative, moderate Democrats.

She upset Arizona conservatives by supporting President Barack Obama's health-care reform bill, a move which landed her on Sarah Palin's list of politicians to remove from office in the mid-terms last November.

She faced a tough challenge from a Tea Party candidate, Jesse Kelly, but won by a narrow margin of 4,000 votes.

Although she voted against President George W Bush's economic bail-out bill in 2008 - the bill ultimately failed - she voted for Mr Obama's American Recovery and Reinvestment Act the following year.

Ms Giffords has advocated immigration reform, and supported legislation that included a guest-worker programme and a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants - measures that are deeply opposed by most conservatives.

She has also expressed support for alternative energy, in particular, solar power.

Ms Giffords is passionate about military issues and served on the House Armed Services Committee. Military contractors are a big employer in her district.

She has been deeply engaged in military issues, helping craft the GI bill which assists veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflict obtain college degrees.

Paul Rieckhoff, executive director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, said she was "a huge voice for veterans and the military".

During the last Congress she also chaired the Science Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics.

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