Seven months after she was shot in the head, US lawmaker Gabrielle Giffords made a dramatic return to the House of Representatives on Monday to vote for a major austerity bill.
The House chamber broke into a sudden standing ovation in the midst of voting as word spread that Giffords had entered for the first time since the January shooting. Fellow lawmakers embraced her as Giffords blew kisses and could be seen saying, "Thank you, thank you."
Giffords, while thin and missing her once-long locks of blonde hair, appeared to be in surprisingly good health, moving through the chamber with minimal assistance from an aide.
"The Capitol looks beautiful and I am honored to be at work tonight," Giffords wrote in a message on Twitter.
Representative Nancy Pelosi, the top House lawmaker of President Barack Obama's Democratic Party, hailed her party colleague as a "personification of courage" and said that that no one had "more wishes for our daughters to be like her than Gabby Giffords."
The welcome was bipartisan. Representative Jeff Flake, a Republican whose district is also in Arizona, wrote on Twitter: "Just greeted Gabby Giffords on the House floor. 'Great to be here!' she said. I couldn't agree more."
A gunman shot Giffords in the head on January 8 as she met constituents at a public forum at a grocery store in Tucson, Arizona. She has needed major rehabilitation to regain movement on the right side of her body.
Six people were killed in the rampage, including a federal judge and a nine-year-old girl.
Giffords was discharged from the hospital in June and has been staying in Texas to be with her husband -- Mark Kelly, the astronaut who commanded the final flight by the shuttle Endeavour.
Giffords, a centrist Democrat, supported the package that will authorize at least $2.1 trillion in spending cuts and raise the legal limit on the US debt in hopes of avoiding a default due in one day.
In a statement released by her office, Giffords said that she had been closely following the debt debate and was "deeply disappointed at what's going on in Washington."
"I strongly believe that crossing the aisle for the good of the American people is more important than party politics. I had to be here for this vote. I could not take the chance that my absence could crash our economy," she said.