Giffords returns to D.C. for husband's ceremony

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

WASHINGTON - Looking thrilled to be among friends and colleagues, Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords returned to Washington on Thursday to attend a Navy retirement ceremony for her husband, former astronaut Mark Kelly.

The visit marks the Arizona congresswoman's second trip to the nation's capital since she was shot in the head last January while meeting with constituents in Tucson. About 30 people, including Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, greeted her and Kelly with a standing ovation as they entered the Secretary of War suite at the Eisenhower Executive Building next to the White House. Giffords walked slowly and with a noticeable limp, but she looked overjoyed to see some of her fellow lawmakers again.

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Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., traveled to Washington D.C. on Oct. 6, 2011 to attend a retirement ceremony for her husband, Capt. Mark Kelly.

Vice President Joe Biden emceed the ceremony, which included awarding Kelly two of the military's highest awards. Biden had a little trouble pinning the Legion of Merit on Kelly and blamed it on the dim lighting, but Giffords stepped up and had no trouble whatsoever pinning the Distinguished Flying Cross on her husband.

"Gabby did it better than I did," Biden said as the audience laughed and applauded.

Biden made note of Giffords appearance and her near-constant smile.

"You've been an inspiration, an inspiration to thousands of people who suffer from traumatic head injuries," Biden said. "... People look at you and say, `I can make it. I can do this."'

As the ceremony ended, reporters were quickly escorted from the room so there was no chance to ask Giffords questions or for her to make any statements. She did not have extended conversations with colleagues at the beginning of the reception, but she turned to them and waved or blew them kisses when they were introduced.

Vice President Joe Biden speaks at Captain Mark 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

Aides said Giffords planned to conduct no congressional business and would return to Houston shortly after the ceremony, where she undergoes rehabilitation therapy.

Giffords has made few public appearances since the shooting. She has not yet made a decision about her political future, but colleagues are raising campaign money on her behalf in case she decides she does want to continue serving in Congress.

Kelly became a NASA astronaut in 1996 and made four trips into space aboard the space shuttle. He commanded three of those missions, including the last flight of the space shuttle Endeavour.

On "The Early Show" Thursday, Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee and a close friend of Giffords', said that she continues to make "wonderful progress."

"With each passing month, (Gabby) is working so hard, and, you know, in rehabilitation and physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy. She's just really progressing along the way all of the doctors would like her to and even beyond that. And we're so proud of her and I am excited to see her this afternoon," Wasserman-Schultz, D-Fla., said.

When the two speak on the phone, Wasserman-Schultz says Giffords is able to initiate some conversation and "respond extensively."

"You can have conversations with her," Schultz said.