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Giffords Closes Year of Transformation

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call
Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (center) speaks with her chief of staff, Pia Carusone, and husband Mark Kelly as she arrives to cast her final vote in Congress on Wednesday.

Before the shooting, it was like any other strip mall. Afterward, the banality of the Casas Adobes Safeway parking lot was stripped down to a mix of police tape, media trucks and crime scene investigators.

Virtually every Member, whether they hailed from Hagatna, Guam, or Crown Heights, N.Y., could visualize ways their constituent events could go wrong. Members almost immediately began working to shore up security where they could.

This all came at a time of heightened concern about Congressional spending. Barely a month after the shooting, the fervor to cut budgets prompted new House Administration Chairman Dan Lungren (R-Calif.) to warn his colleagues in a letter that some cost-saving proposals would “force Capitol Police to face today’s ever-growing security threats with significantly fewer resources and officers.”

Those receiving threats span the political spectrum. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) has received more than his share over the past few years. Most recently, the FBI arrested a Tennessee man in October for threatening Cantor and his family.

On Oct. 25, a California man pleaded guilty for death threats he made over the summer against Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.).

Also in October, Rep. Bobby Schilling (R-Ill.) was told to be wary after emails came to light that offered cash to anyone willing to assassinate him.

So Members have attempted to balance the need to be secure with the austerity of the times, some of them getting creative in the process.

In August, Giffords’ office asked the Federal Election Commission whether she could use some of her campaign funds to pay for security upgrades at her home. The agency granted the permission, as it had for similar requests earlier.

But even the Capitol can be a target, and that truth, coupled with Giffords’ poignant reminder of the stakes, crystallizes for every Member of Congress and his or her staff that the threat is real and persisting.

This is what was important about
Giffords’ return, and exit, from public life.

Ever since she was felled last year, she provided a truly iconic example of how a public official faces the fear.

The empty chair reserved for Giffords during last year’s State of the Union speech was filled, against long odds, by the Congresswoman herself Tuesday night.

That Giffords was able to personally hand her resignation letter to Boehner only highlighted how extraordinary the past year has been.

One year ago, she was in Houston, taking the first steps of a long rehabilitation that will be the focus of her life after Congress.

She returned to Capitol Hill in August, voting on the debt ceiling deal, providing a rare positive note to a summer of fierce partisan debate.

She gingerly returned to public events. She sat for an interview on ABC News with Diane Sawyer in November. She served Thanksgiving dinner to the troops at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson.

And after announcing her resignation on Sunday, she moved to finish what she could not last year. On Monday, she met with constituents in Tucson to close the loop on the “Congress on Your Corner” event interrupted by the gunfire.

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