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Gabrielle Giffords' return to Congress sparks re-election talk

By the CNN Wire Staff
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House applauds Giffords' surprise return
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Astronaut Mark Kelly says his wife "make(s) this country a better place"
  • The representative makes dramatic and emotional appearance in House
  • Her office says she has not decided whether to run for re-election
  • She still has a long way to go in her recovery, Dr. Sanjay Gupta says

(CNN) -- U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords' dramatic and emotional return to Congress for a vote on the debt ceiling compromise sparked an almost immediate discussion of a possible re-election bid.

But a day after her triumphant appearance on the House floor, Giffords' political future wasn't immediately clear. Despite her astounding recovery, she still needed help to make sure she wouldn't fall, Dr. Sanjay Gupta noted on CNN's "American Morning." And she has much rehabilitation work ahead of her, he said.

Giffords' spokesman, C.J. Karamargin, said his boss has not decided whether she will seek re-election.

"Congresswoman Giffords is focused on her recovery," he said.

Giffords' close friend Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz told MSNBC's "Morning Joe" that preparations are nevertheless under way should Giffords decide to make such a decision.

"We're certainly getting her ready to make sure that she can run for re-election at the point that they're ready to decide on that," said Wasserman Shultz, D-Florida.

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Giffords returned to Congress Monday, nearly seven months after being shot in the head -- an injury that would have killed most people. A gunman targeted her during a session with constituents outside a Tucson supermarket in January.

Six people died in the attack, including a member of Giffords' congressional staff. Initial reports suggested that she was among the fatalities.

Instead, she survived the initial trauma and surgeries and set out on a recovery that colleagues, friends and medical experts have described as remarkable.

She was released from the Tucson hospital in January, traveling to Houston for rehabilitation. In May, she attended her Navy officer husband's space shuttle launch. Weeks later, she was released from the rehab hospital. And Monday night, she returned to Congress, walking onto the House floor to thunderous applause and leaving in a glow of bipartisan cheer.

"The #Capitol looks beautiful and I am honored to be at work tonight," Giffords tweeted Monday.

Her unexpected appearance on the House floor ignited a long wave of applause and greetings from House members in both parties.

Her hair still close-cropped from brain surgery to repair the bullet's damage, Giffords waved at applauding colleagues with her left hand and mouthed the words "Thank you" repeatedly before casting her vote in favor of the debt ceiling proposal.

"It's been very tough, very, very, very hard-edged, and as Gabby came in and people realized, it was just this wave of recognition, and the House erupted," Wasserman Schultz said. "It was electrifying."

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney described Giffords' appearance as a "great moment."

"It was a powerful moment and a wonderful moment, obviously, because of her courage, her bravery, her unbelievable perseverance, and, through her recovery, her commitment to service," he said. "But also it was a testament to ... how something like that can bring everyone together after such a contentious debate."

Daniel Hernandez, the former Giffords intern who rushed to her side moments after she was shot, said he was excited to see her recovery.

"It was absolutely amazing to be able to see her going back to doing what she's always loved, which is representing her constituents," Hernandez said.

Giffords' husband, astronaut Mark Kelly, said in a Twitter post Tuesday that he was lucky to be married to the congresswoman.

"Gabby, I'm so proud of you for everything you have done & continue to do to make this country a better place," he wrote.

That Giffords is still alive, much less able to return to Congress, is remarkable, Gupta said. About three-quarters of people with such wounds don't survive, he said.

It's clear that Giffords is suffering weakness to the right side of her body that would be expected from an injury to the left side of the brain, Gupta said.

She did not move her right arm and required assistance standing.

He said Giffords still has a lot of rehabilitation work to do. Most patients in her situation peak in their recovery after 12 to 18 months.

For now, Giffords probably has difficulty expressing herself -- a typical trait for people with traumatic brain injuries -- and may have difficulty recalling words.

That could be difficult for a politician in a re-election campaign, but were Giffords to run again, it would probably not be an ordinary campaign.

As her appearance in the House showed, she has built up an enormous amount of goodwill as the survivor of a shooting rampage.

"Pity the soul that runs against her," one supporter wrote Tuesday morning on Twitter.

CNN's Danielle Dellorto, Chelsea Bailey and Ashley Killough contributed to this report.

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