On Saturday, as House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi was taking down the family Christmas tree in San Francisco, she heard a news flash that Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) had been shot in the head at an outdoor constituent meeting in Tuscon, Ariz.
Seeking to distract herself as the horrific tale unfolded -- including early, erroneous reports that her colleague had died in the hail of bullets that claimed six lives and injured 14 -- Pelosi returned to dismantling the tree. Within minutes, she came across the ornament Gabby Giffords and her astronaut husband, Mark Kelly, had given her as a gift, a source told Politics Daily.
It was an ironic and bittersweet moment for Pelosi. Never mind that on Jan. 5, just three days before the shooting, Giffords had voted for Rep. John Lewis, the civil rights pioneer from Georgia, instead of Pelosi, for House speaker. A total of 19 dissident Democrats supported other members for the post. Because Republicans so greatly outnumber Democrats, GOP leader John Boehner of Ohio was elected speaker, and Pelosi, by default, became minority leader. At the time, Pelosi shrugged off the insurgency by moderates and conservatives as "politics," just as she seemingly forgave Democrats who distanced themselves
from her during their House campaigns by saying, "I just want them to win their elections. I don't care."
It is unclear what she thought of those who opposed her last week, and certainly in the case of Giffords, who faces a difficult recovery, Pelosi's real feelings will probably never be known.
But on Wednesday night, a short week after that vote -- which nevertheless overwhelmingly made her minority leader -- a clearly exultant Pelosi declared, "It was like a miracle
," when Giffords opened her eyes at University Medical Center in Tucson, where she remains in critical condition.
Pelosi was with two of Giffords' best friends
-- Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York -- in the hospital room where President Obama and his wife, Michelle, had also spent time before leaving for the emotional memorial service at the University of Arizona. After Pelosi left the hospital room, she partially attributed Giffords' latest sign of progress to "girl power."
The minority leader, who is 70, may not be as close to Giffords, 40, as her other two colleagues in the room, but she clearly has been a mentor to all the younger Democratic women elected in recent years. As House speaker until last week, it was Pelosi who named freshman Giffords to the Armed Services Committee in 2007 and gave her a coveted spot on the bipartisan delegation to the Copenhagen climate control conference in 2009.
On Tuesday afternoon, just three days after the shooting, Pelosi
spent nearly 20 minutes consoling the Giffords' staff. She met with aides individually and then as a group, the source said. Like other Democratic and Republican leaders have done since the shooting, Pelosi also arranged to have food delivered to the traumatized aides on Tuesday. "She is close to all of her members. It's part of her leadership style. She knows the children, the parents, the spouses. She sends notes," the source continued.
As Pelosi left Giffords' office in the Longworth building on Tuesday, she made no public statement. She just dabbed at her eyes and walked down the marble corridor. A day later, Giffords opened her eyes.