Arizona Representative Gabrielle Giffords smiles after reciting the Pledge of Allegiance during a memorial service at the University of Arizona campus in Tucson in this January 8, 2012 file photo. (LAURA SEGALL/REUTERS)

Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) announced Sunday in a video message to constituents that she would resign from Congress as she continues to recover from the gunshot wounds she suffered in a shooting rampage on Jan. 8, 2011 during a constituent meeting hosted by her office. Sandhya Somashekar and Paul Kane report:

She nearly died from the gunshot wound to her head, and the severity of the damage to her brain left the extent of her recovery in question. But it was in a clear and strong voice that betrayed only a hint of her ordeal that Giffords announced her decision, in a video posted on her campaign Web site.

“I don’t remember much from that horrible day, but I will never forget the trust you placed in me to be your voice,” she said, looking directly into the camera. The hair that had been severely cropped after the shooting now framed her face in soft curls. “I have more work to do on my recovery, so to do what is best for Arizona, I will step down this week.”

One last hurrah

Before handing in her resignation to House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) and Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R), Giffords has some unfinished business. She plans to attend President Obama’s State of the Union address on Tuesday. And she will finish the meeting that was “interrupted,” her staff said in a statement, by gathering with some of the survivors at a private event in Tucson on Monday.

The announcement came as an emotional blow to many of her friends and supporters, who had hoped she would recover enough to run for reelection or even for the Senate. But it was not entirely unexpected.

For months, her devoted staff shouldered the burdens of her office while she underwent multiple surgeries and intensive therapy in Houston, where her husband, astronaut Mark Kelly, lived. Giffords made a remarkable recovery, but with her term ending this year, her constituents wondered whether she would be up to the challenge of running for reelection.

In She the People, Suzie Parker writes that Giffords’ decision is the right one:

Rep. Gabrielle “Gabby’ Giffords, an Arizona Democrat, is doing the right thing, of course, in opting to place politics on the back burner and focus on her health.

Politics is not the most important thing in life, after all, though it can seem so to those in the game. Giffords needs to regain her health and spend time with her husband instead of focusing on an exhausting reelection campaign. In short, Giffords needs to spend time navigating her new reality.

To many of us, Giffords became a hero, a symbol of endurance and bravery, after she was shot in the head by Jared Lee Loughner on Jan. 8, 2011, at a Congress on Your Corner meet-and-greet in front of a Tucson supermarket.

Thirteen people were wounded in the horrific incident. Six people were killed, including Arizona District Court Chief Judge John Roll, one of Giffords’s staffers and 9-year-old Christina-Taylor Green who, at even such a young age, possessed a keen interest in politics.

On the Christina-Taylor Green Memorial Foundation Web site, it says, “Having just been elected to the student council at Mesa Verde Elementary School, she was eager to ask her Congresswoman questions concerning the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and what it was like being a politician.”

No wonder Green wanted to meet Giffords.

In the video released Sunday, stunning Arizona scenery rolled before Giffords said, “Arizona is my home. It always will be.” Then in true politician style, Giffords left a little teaser for her supporters: “I will return, and we will work together for Arizona and this great country.”

It’s exactly what Christina Taylor-Green would have wanted.

Giffords’ departure means a special election will be set this spring to elect a new Representative for Arizona’s eighth district.Rachel Weiner reported in the Fix:

According to state law, Gov. Jan Brewer (R-Ariz.) must set a date for a special election primary 80 to 90 days after Giffords formally steps down, and a general election will be set for 50 to 60 days after the primary. So the primary election for Giffords seat will likely be held in late April with the general election in June.

The state’s independent redistricting commission made Giffords’ swing seat slightly more Democratic. But that map is under dispute, and a special election for Giffords’ seat will be held under the old lines.

That’s the map under which Giffords was reelected in 2010 by a mere 1.3 percent margin. Her district voted for Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in 2008.

But the special circumstances — Giffords has become a national hero since the assassination attempt against her last January — surrounding the seat could give Democrats something of a boost.

“The entire nation has felt like one of Gabrielle Giffords’ constituents,” Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel (D-N.Y.) said in a statement. “We look forward to working with a Democratic candidate who fits this district and shares those values that Gabrielle holds dear to carry on her work.”

Democrats say it’s too early to talk about a replacement for Giffords in the House, but that candidates will emerge soon.

A Democratic source in the state said the party has a “deep bench” and is confident about competing in both the special election and next fall.

Giffords’ husband, retired astronaut Mark Kelly has already said he’s not interested in running for Congress.

On the Republican side, state Sen. Frank Antenori expressed interest in the seat back in August.

The fields on both sides are likely to grow as aspiring pols jump at the chance for an open seat.


Photos: Life and career of Gabrielle Giffords

Video: Giffords announces her resignation