Giffords in House for first time since shooting

Associated Press
RETRANSMISSION FOR ALTERNATE CROP - Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., sits in a car with her husband Mark Kelly as she leaves the U.S. Capitol after she appeared on the House floor to vote on debt legislation in Washington, Monday, Aug. 1, 2011. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

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WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords returned to the House of Representatives for the first time since she was shot last January, making a dramatic entrance Monday night during a crucial debt vote and drawing loud applause and cheers from surprised colleagues.

As lawmakers stood on the floor, staring up at the vote board, Giffords slowly made her way through an entrance on the Democratic side of the chamber. Applause built and rolled like a wave through the House as lawmakers realized that their colleague had returned.

Shortly after her appearance, a tweet appeared on Giffords' Twitter account: "The Capitol looks beautiful and I am honored to be at work tonight."

On Jan. 8, Giffords, an Arizona Democrat, was shot in the head in the parking lot of a Tucson grocery store while meeting with constituents. Six people were killed and 13 others, including Giffords, were wounded. The man charged in the shooting, Jared Lee Loughner, has pleaded not guilty to 49 charges.

On the House floor, Giffords, wearing glasses, her hair darker and cut short since surgery, hugged and kissed fellow lawmakers. As time ticked off on the vote, Democrats and Republicans made their way toward her.

She cast her first vote — for the debt-limit bill — and left the Capitol.

"It means so much to our country ... to witness the return of our colleague who is the personification of courage, of sincerity, of admiration throughout the country," Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California told the House.

Giffords has been undergoing outpatient therapy in Houston since her release from the hospital in June.

Loughner was sent to a federal prison facility in Springfield, Missouri, after a federal judge concluded he was mentally incompetent to stand trial.

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