Rep. Gabrielle Giffords has been gone 10 weeks, but her offices must keep functioning. Legislative Director Peter Ambler and Chief of Staff Pia Carusone, her top aides, run things in her absence.
Exactly when Giffords might be ready to read those books isn’t clear — though in the Longworth office, it’s taken as an article of faith that the boss will be back. The lawmaker’s doctors’ most recent public assessment was relatively rosy: She can follow conversations, speak — sometimes in full sentences — and even walk with some help.
Giffords’ path back to Washington isn’t certain, but her staffers operate as if it were, as if at any second, Giffords might just walk into the room.
Still, for all the normalcy, it’s difficult to forget this is a tribe for whom tragedy is still fresh. After Carusone hires the new caseworker, she calls a staffer in the Tucson office to ready a new workspace.
“Not in Gabe’s old desk,” she says into the phone. “It’s too soon.”
And while Members of Congress have pitched in to help Giffords’ office on the legislative front, they’re also showing their support in more tangible ways.
Like neighbors who show sympathy in times of crises with casseroles and cookies, Members of both parties provide a daily lunch for the staff. Former Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.) sent rotisserie chickens, and Rep. Sander Levin (D-Mich.) personally delivered pizza.
Last Friday, Rep. Yvette Clarke (D-N.Y.) bought spaghetti and garlic bread, and the staffers gathered in the Congresswoman’s office to eat and banter. The room isn’t sacred space left empty in Giffords’ absence; even before the shooting, the always-on-the-go lawmaker spent little time sequestered there, and the staff used the large room for meetings.
Still, it’s filled with mementos, including a particularly poignant framed photo of a rocket launch. Below the image, Giffords’ husband, astronaut Mark Kelly, wrote an inscription, an artifact from a more carefree time. “To my favorite Congresswoman, on and off the planet,” it reads. “Love Always, Mark.”
Jennifer Bendery contributed to this report.
Correction: March 21, 2011
The article misstated the title of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).