TODAY | August 02, 2011
ANN CURRY, co-host: But let's begin in Washington with the latest on today's debt limit deadline and Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords ' triumphant return to Congress . We have two reports beginning now with NBC 's Andrea Mitchell . Andrea , good morning.
ANDREA MITCHELL reporting: Good morning, Ann. Well, if Washington ever needed an inspirational survival story it was certainly now. Gabby Giffords ' return was a badly needed emotional tonic. Incredibly she was walking and she was conversational, clearly remembering names and faces. It was a moment of personal triumph so transforming, so exhilarating, for a time it even swept away the bickering and ill will . As Gabby Giffords made her surprise entrance on to the House floor to cast her vote, fellow Democrats and Republican rivals alike leapt to their feet in a spontaneous standing ovation. It lasted a full 10 minutes. The first public notice came in a tweet from Giffords ' office. " Gabrielle has returned to Washington to support a bipartisan bill to prevent economic crisis." Civil rights veteran Congressman John Lewis wept. Another colleague took Giffords ' face and said, ' It's you , it's you.' Giffords told friends the vote was so important she wanted to be there to help.
Representative DEBBIE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ (Democrat, Florida): We walked into the chamber together. And just, you know, the room exploded. I mean, it was just, like I said, it was electrifying. Members were crying. This has been such a tough few days, and to see her triumphantly walk back into the chamber, as her friend, as a girlfriend, it was just one of the most amazing moments.
MITCHELL: Giffords tweeted, " The Capitol looks beautiful and I am honored to be at work tonight." Later she explained, "I had to be here for this vote. I could not take the chance that my absence could crash our economy." The miracle of Giffords ' return is that it comes barely seven months after she was shot through the head, gunned down at a constituent event in Tucson .
Unidentified Woman: She is in critical condition, she is...
MITCHELL: We marveled at her progress every step of the way. Emergency surgery, then tiny signs of recovery. A squeeze of her husband's hand. The movement of an arm. A smile. She moved to Houston to continue her rehabilitation. By February a major breakthrough, she began to speak, asked for toast. By April, she was able to fly to Florida to watch the launch of the space shuttle Endeavour commanded by her husband Mark Kelly .
Commander MARK KELLY: She's doing really well.
MITCHELL: By June, her office released the first pictures. Her hair cropped close and darker but flashes of her signature smile, all the while working step by painful step toward the day when she could finally stand on the House floor and cast a critical vote.
Representative NANCY PELOSI (Democrat, California): Throughout America , there isn't a name that stirs more love, more admiration, more respect, more wishing for our daughters to be like her than the name of Congresswoman Gabby Giffords . Thank you, Gabby , for joining us.
MITCHELL: Aided by her husband, surrounded by friends, the congresswoman departed as quietly as she had arrived, leaving her colleagues who had been bruised by months by political battles, sharing welcome tears of joy.
Rep. SCHULTZ: There's so many doubters and skeptics, but never doubt Gabby Giffords ' determination. She -- this is the first of many votes that she's going to cast.
MITCHELL: Nothing could have done more to heal Congress ' wounded spirits than seeing Gabby Giffords back on the job, even for one vote. And today Mark Kelly and his fellow astronauts will be at the White House to be thanked and
honored by the president. Ann: All right, Andrea Mitchell .
CURRY: It was really a moment.
MITCHELL: It really was, Andrea . Thank you so much for that report. Well, we're now joined by Giffords ' close friend Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz . Good morning to you, Congresswoman.
CURRY: Good morning, Ann.
Rep. SCHULTZ: So this has got to be one of the most triumphant returns ever in Congress . A House divided, united in tears with so much emotion. But what were Congresswoman Giffords ' emotions? How much did this warm welcome mean to her?
CURRY: You know, she was absolutely overwhelmed. When she came in the chamber she was excited, she was greeting people all the way up the stairs. What was so incredible, and this just shows you how much progress that she's made, it's one thing for her to recognize, you know, good friends' faces and colleagues, but as she walked up the stairs, she saw Bill Livingood , our House sergeant at arms , and immediately said, " Livingood " and gave him a big hug. And it was just -- it was just another example of how much fight and determination she has. She felt it was absolutely crucial for her voice and her -- the voice of her constituents to be present in that room, either if she needed to be the pivotal vote to make sure that the country didn't default for the first time in history and then she ultimately decided that it was important on the -- on really the most -- probably the most important bill that we will consider this whole Congress , that the constituents in the 8th district of Arizona , you know, had their representative there to cast her vote.
Rep. SCHULTZ: That said, as a measure of what she had to overcome to be there, what were her worries? I know you started talking about this on Sunday. What were her worries about -- when she was trying to make the decision about whether or not to go?
CURRY: Well, actually she didn't really -- she didn't have too many worries. Her -- as she watched the debate unfold, as she followed the discussion, she came to the realization that it was, you know, absolutely critical that her absence not be the reason that the nation could default. She thought it was important for her to be there, to cast that vote. It was -- in terms of worry, I didn't detect any worry in talking to Mark and to Gabby . They felt, Gabby especially, that her district needed that voice in that room. Now she's, you know, going to go back and continue her recovery. She's got a long way to go , but this was a triumphant return, Ann. I mean, just listening to the whole thing all over again was -- I teared up again. It's just -- it's so -- it was such a moment that the Congress needed, that the country needed. We -- everyone's been praying for this moment. And for it to happen at a time when we have had, you know, bitter partisanship and very grizzled, hardened hearts, Gabby melted those -- that hardened heart last night and, you know, hopefully it's an opening and an opportunity for us in the second half of this effort as the commission begins to meet for us to really come together and put forward a balanced plan that makes sure we can get our economy really on the way again to turning around and recovering.
Rep. SCHULTZ: All right, Congresswoman, I want you to stand by because I want to quickly bring in NBC 's chief medical editor Dr. Nancy Snyderman .
Rep. SCHULTZ: It appears, based on what we're understanding...
Dr. NANCY SNYDERMAN reporting: ...how much she recognized, how great she looked that we're witnessing something of a medical miracle.
CURRY: Well, it was -- it was a wonderful outcome of an amazing woman who really epitomizes everything that can go right in a horrific accident. Phenomenal emergency response in Arizona . Great neurosurgical team, great trauma center, level one care. Phenomenally strong young patient. A rich family support system. And the bullet trajectory meant that we knew early on she wasn't paralyzed, but it did go to the frontal lobe which is the executive thinking part of the brain and it exited sort of the language part. So I'm thrilled that she made this entrance yesterday and I think Congresswoman really put it out that now she still has to really work on the language and speech and executive functions. But it was a phenomenal moment. And a real -- a real story of what can go right in the US medical system.
SNYDERMAN: All right, Nancy Snyderman , thank you so much for that important perspective.
CURRY: You bet.
SNYDERMAN: And Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz , may you be right that this glow will last in Congress for some time to come.
CURRY: We're going the work hard to make it happen.