Speech, border security vote are Giffords' final acts in Congress

In a part homecoming and part farewell, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords is expected to return to the House chamber for President Obama's State of the Union speech as she bows out of public life to focus on her recovery.

The Arizona Democrat has left an indelible mark on Congress during her three terms in office, and Tuesday’s appearance is expected to be an emotional one.

After Giffords she was shot in the head while meeting with constituents a year ago in her Tucson district, calls for political civility prompted lawmakers to cross party lines to sit beside one another during the president’s speech. That tradition continued Tuesday.

Giffords is popular on the Hill, a pragmatic politician who mixed moderate politics with a friendly resolve. She is expected to take her seat between Arizona colleagues Rep. Jeff Flake, a Republican, and Rep. Raul Grijalva, a Democrat. They had left a chair vacant for her last year after the Jan. 8 shooting.

Obama has called Giffords "the very best of what public service should be." Her husband, retired astronaut Mark Kelly, has been invited to watch the speech from the first lady’s box in the gallery.

Giffords suffered a massive head injury in the shooting, when a gunman opened fire at a "Congress on Your Corner" event outside a grocery store. Six people were killed and 13 injured.

Alleged gunman Jared Lee Loughner has pleaded not guilty to multiple federal charges. He has been diagnosed with schizophrenia and found incompetent to stand trial. Doctors are trying to restore his competency as he is being held in a federal prison hospital.

The congresswoman's office has remained open in the year since the shooting, and Giffords received a standing ovation from both sides of the political aisle when she returned to Washington last summer to vote to raise the debt ceiling during that divisive debate.

But with a long recovery still ahead, Giffords announced Sunday she would focus on getting better.

On Wednesday, the GOP-led House is expected to take up a Giffords bill -- bipartisan border security legislation co-sponsored by Flake -- as she prepares to leave Congress.

Congressional leaders expect she will submit her formal resignation this week. The Arizona governor, by law, must call a special primary election within three months of a congressional retirement, followed by a special election two months later, likely this summer. The border district leans Republican, but not for long – redistricting will tilt it more Democratic this November, when the seat will be contested again.

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