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Wasserman-Schultz on Giffords’ Progress and the ‘Power of Friendship’

January 13, 2011 at 12:00 AM EST
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Jeffrey Brown talks to Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, D-Fla., a friend and colleague of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords who was with her when she opened her eyes in the hospital.
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RAY SUAREZ: Now, with more on that news the president delivered about the congresswoman’s recovery, here is Jeffrey Brown.

JEFFREY BROWN: It was during a hospital room visit from her closest friends and colleagues in Congress when Representative Giffords demonstrated her latest signs of progress.

Florida Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz was in the room at the time.

Well, you described this as feeling like a — quote — “miracle.”Tell us what happened.

REP. DEBBIE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ (D-Fla.):Well, I was — we all were so full of joy to be able to be by the bedside of our good friend Gabby, and never expected anything like what happened.

We were just talking to her like girlfriends talk to each other, and urging her on, and encouraging her recovery.And, at one point, Senator Gillibrand, Kirsten, was holding her hand, and rubbing her hand, and Gabby actually was rubbing back with her thumb.

And then Kirsten was talking about, “You know, Gabby, come on.You have got to get better quick, because we’re going to go back out for pizza like we did a couple weeks ago.”

Then I said — we have vacationed with them for the last couple summers.So, I said to her, “Gabby, you have got to get better as quick as you can, because we’re expecting you back in New Hampshire this summer.”

And then, right when I said that, she — her eyes started to open just a little bit with slits, but, definitely, you could see she was struggling to get them open.And Mark, her husband, said, “Oh, Gabby, you know, honey, if you can — if you can see me, give me the thumbs-up sign.”

And she didn’t — she didn’t respond with the thumbs-up sign.She — her eyes closed again.They opened.She kept trying a few more times, got them open a little bit more, a little bit more.Mark kept encouraging her on.We were talking, tears streaming down our face.

And Mark finally said, “Honey, if you can see me” — her eyes were open a little bit more — “then give me the thumbs-up.”

And, all of sudden, her arm flew up.She touched his arms.He said, “Honey, touch my ring if you can hear me.”She did.

We were just overcome with emotion.It was absolutely — the doctor — I’m sorry — the doctor got very animated, said this is incredible progress.He suddenly whips out his BlackBerry.He’s furiously typing on it.It was just an incredible moment.It really was.

JEFFREY BROWN: Yes, you said that the — yes, this took the doctors by surprise as well, right?I think you said last night that he — he referred…

REP. DEBBIE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: It appeared so.

JEFFREY BROWN: … to it as the power of friendship.

REP. DEBBIE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Yes.

When we left the hospital room, when they kind of ushered us out and said, OK, enough excitement for — for one — for one period, we went out and talked to Dr. Lemole, the one who’s been so wonderful on TV explaining what’s going on.

And he said, “Look, I usually discount emotion and the impact of emotion or friendship, but,” he said, “we clearly witnessed the power of friendship here.”

And so we were very happy that our girlfriend power could make a little bit of a difference.

JEFFREY BROWN: You were at the service last night where President Obama spoke.

REP. DEBBIE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Yes.

JEFFREY BROWN: It was interesting from the outside to watch the crowd, to watch the event, and the mix of sobriety and cheering.How did it strike you?

REP. DEBBIE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Well, it was alternatively somber and hopeful.

I think President Obama, he — he literally helped heal the nation, heal the Tucsonians who really were so badly wounded in their hearts, and — and spoke to the hope of our — the future of our democracy.

It was really — it was an evening that you left with a full heart…

JEFFREY BROWN: A lot of…

REP. DEBBIE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: … and hope for better civility and better civil discourse.

And, you know, I know that colleagues of mine on both sides of the aisle, many of us feel like we need to lead by example going forward and trying to set an example for the kind of dialogue.We can debate vigorously and vigorously advocate our principles, but we need to stop treating our opponents like our enemies.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, thanks very much.

REP. DEBBIE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Thank you.