Rep. Gabrielle Giffords is absent, but her House seat is not vacant

FILE - In this May 17, 2011 file photo, U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords is seen at TIRR Memorial Hermann Hospital in Houston. The joint memoir of Giffords and her husband, retired astronaut Mark Kelly, is coming out Nov. 15. The book, titled "Gabby: A Story of Courage and Hope," was written with "The Last Lecture" co-author Jeffrey Zaslow. (AP Photo/southwestphotobank.com, P.K. Weis, File) MANDATORY CREDIT P.K. Weis

Captain Mark Kelly hugs his wife Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords after receiving the Legion of Merit from Vice President Joe Biden during Captain Kelly's retirement ceremony in the Secretary of War Suite in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, in Washington, D.C., Oct. 6, 2011.
Official White House Photo by David Lienemann

Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., has only cast one Congressional vote since she was shot on Jan. 8, 2011, by a deranged gunman in Arizona. On Aug. 1, she voted to increase the debt ceiling. But there's no timetable for her to return to work full time. Yet, her seat in the House of Representatives isn't considered vacant.

Gabrielle Giffords posts message: "I'm getting better"

According to a spokesman in Giffords' office, a seat is only considered vacant if the member dies, resigns, or his seat is officially declaredvacant by a vote.

So who, exactly, is representing the interests of the 8th district of Arizona while Giffords is absent? Spokesman Mark Kimble says Giffords'and her constituents' interests are being represented through other members who "have sponsored legislation on her behalf."

For example, Kimble says Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas, introduced the Southern Borderlands Public Safety Communications Act at the request of Giffords' office. The bill seeks to address poor cell phone service near the border. It's in memory of a Giffords constituent who was murdered in a border area reported to have poor cell phone service.

Many members of Congress have taken extended absences over the years. Among the longest leaves we found: Nearly four years absence for Sen. Carter Glass, D-Va.. He suffered age-related illnesses beginning in 1942 but refused to resign and died in 1946. A close second is Sen. Karl Earl Mundt, R-S.D., who was absent more than three years. He, too, refused calls to resign after suffering a stroke in 1969. His wife led staff in Mundt's place, and he remained in office through the end of his term on Jan. 3, 1973.

Other notable absences include former President and then-Senator Lyndon Johnson, D-Texas. He missed five months in 1955 after suffering a heart attack. Vice President and then-Senator Joe Biden D-Del., was out seven months in 1988 after a brain aneurysm. Rep. John Sullivan, R-Okla., took a month off in 2009 for alcohol addiction treatment.

Lyndon Johnson, Al Gore and Joe Biden
Getty Images

Read a list of other Congressional absences below.

Senate Absences

1942: Styles Bridges, R-N.H., five months after hip fracture

1942-46: Carter Glass, D-Va., three years 11 months from infirmities of old age (died before return to office)

1947-49: Robert F. Wagner, D-N.Y., one year five months with heart ailment

1949-51: Arthur H. Vandenberg, D-Mich., one year six months after two surgeries (returned briefly before dying April, 1951)

1955: Lyndon B. Johnson, D-Texas, five months after heart attack

1963-64: Clair Engle, D-Calif., absent off-and-on after brain cancer surgeries

1969-73: Karl Earl Mundt, R-S.D., over three years after stroke

1988: Joe Biden, D-Del., seven months after brain aneurysm

1989: Al Gore, D-Tenn., one month to care for injured son.

1991: David Pryor, D-Ark., five months after heart attack.

2006-2007: Tim Johnson, D-S.D., nine months after intra-cerebral bleed.

House Absences (partial list)

1961: Sam Rayburn, D-Texas, over two months for medical care.

1998: Deborah Pryce, R-Ohio, two months to care for sick daughter

2000: Philip Crane, R-Ill., one month for alcohol addiction treatment

2004: Billy Tauzin, Democrat-turned-Republican, La., one month after cancer diagnosis

2007: Charlie Wilson, D-Ohio, two months after colon surgery

2007: Yvette Clarke, D-N.Y., one year six months after uterine fibroid surgery

2009: John Sullivan, R-Okla, one month for alcohol addiction treatment

  • Sharyl Attkisson On Twitter»

    Sharyl Attkisson is a CBS News investigative correspondent based in Washington.

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