(CBS News) James Taylor strummed "You've Got a Friend" during a sound check on at the Democratic National Convention this afternoon. Later that evening, former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords graced the same spot and embodied those words.
Giffords attended the convention today and delivered the Pledge of Allegiance. Accompanied on stage by Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, as the crowd roared, "Gabby! Gabby!" She delivered the pledge with an upbeat tone, using her left hand to help hold up her right hand to her heart. Her appearance brought people in the audience to tears.
A senior Obama campaign official told CBS News that the plan for Giffords to be a part of the convention had been in the works for a long time, noting that she and the president are friends.
"She is a real symbol of grit and determination," said the aide. "There's a symbolism of that for this country. It will be a powerful moment." Rep. Ron Barber, D-Ariz., who now holds Giffords congressional seat, released a statement that said, "All of Southern Arizona and the country is inspired by Gabby and her amazing spirit. We are so happy to have her home in Tucson, and I couldn't be happier that tonight the whole country will see her grace and perseverance."
The appearance marks another page in a series of memorable displays the two have shared in the public eye. In January 2011, five days after an assassination attempt on Giffords in Tucson, Ariz., that left six dead and 14 wounded (including Barber), Mr. Obama flew to Arizona to meet with the victims. Shortly after, he gave a speech before thousands at the University of Arizona, where he delivered some breaking news many were not sure would ever come: The critically injured congresswoman had opened her eyes for the first time, during their visit. She "knows we are here, she knows we love her, and she knows that we are rooting for her," he told the crowd of thousands. The speech had also been the first time Giffords' husband, astronaut Mark Kelly, appeared in public since the shooting. He gripped Michelle Obama's hand silently during the president's remarks, and the two men firmly and emotionally embrace. During an impossibly bleak time, it was a powerful moment that reverberated across party lines.
"In an excellent speech eulogizing the six dead and paying respect to the critically wounded Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, Obama appealed to the nation to cool down and stop the nonsense," Fox News commentator Bill O'Reilly wrote in the Boston Globe. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., praised Obama for a "terrific speech," and said that Mr. Obama's words "encouraged every American who participates in our political debates - whether we are on the left or right or in the media - to aspire to a more generous appreciation of one another and a more modest one of ourselves."
The roles were reversed in August 2011 when Giffords returned to Washington during a politically grim time for the president. Gridlock clogged the capital as a debate over whether or not to raise the debt ceiling deadlocked down party lines. In a surprise that few knew was in the works, Giffords appeared on the floor to cast her affirmative vote. It was her first public appearance since the shooting and her colleagues rose to their feet in rapturous applause as she limped onto the floor supported by a cane and aides. Democratic friends, Reps. Nancy Pelosi and Debbie Wasserman Schultz gripped her inside; the Republican House Speaker, John Boehner, helped usher her in. "The #Capitol looks beautiful and I am honored to be at work tonight," she wrote on Twitter. After endless headlines had run slamming the president for the budgetary showdown, front pages across the world ran the next morning with images of that powerful moment on the floor.
Almost a year after the shooting, Giffords announced she would be stepping down from her seat, which her staffers had dutifully been filling while she attended intensive rehabilitation therapy. On January 23, days after making the announcement, she came back to Washington for the State of the Union. In what was the first time she and the president were actually seen together, they locked in a long embrace as he walked to his lectern. She rested his head on his shoulder and the two swayed back and forth.