The House of Representatives' vote to raise the debt ceiling Monday was upstaged by the surprise appearance of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ), making her first visit to the chamber since being shot in the head in January during a visit to her home state.
It was an emotional scene, as Giffords' colleagues cheered her warmly and loudly, with many rushing to her side to welcome her back. And those emotions also played out among Giffords' staff — even though they knew the moment was coming, says her communications director, C.J. Karamargin.
He and other staff members were waiting for the moment as they watched the House vote on television, Karamargin tells All Things Considered co-host Melissa Block.
"We knew it was going to happen, so we were sitting there in silence," he says. "Once the applause started, the tears started flowing here. It was quite an emotional moment for us."
Karamargin says that the "electric" moment was a fitting way to end the long debate over the federal debt ceiling.
"It was that acrimony and bitterness that prompted the congresswoman to make the decision to return to Washington," he says.
Karamargin says that as Giffords watched Republicans, Tea Party members and Democrats debate different plans for raising the debt ceiling, at one point last week, "she turned to her husband, Mark, and shook her head and said, 'Just get it done.'"
Giffords hasn't yet decided whether she will seek reelection in 2012, Karamargin says, as she focuses on her recovery.
"She can communicate to us," he says. "You saw her last night, on the floor. She was whispering in the ears of some her colleagues, she was talking to them. Yes, she can communicate. And her verbal skills, like her physical strength, are continuing to improve tremendously."
As she headed to the House floor to cast her vote Monday, a new message popped up on Giffords' Twitter account: "The Capitol looks beautiful and I am honored to be at work tonight."