WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Amid tears, salutes and standing ovations, Representative Gabrielle Giffords submitted her resignation from Congress on Wednesday to focus on her recovery from an assassination attempt in Tucson, Arizona, last year.
In farewell remarks that hinted at a second political career in the future, the Democratic lawmaker said: "I will recover and will return. And we will work together again, for Arizona, and all Americans." Her remarks were read to the House by one of her friends, Democratic Representative Deborah Wasserman-Schultz.
Giffords' fellow Arizonan, Republican Representative Jeff Flake, held her hand as the speech was read as they stood at the front of the chamber. Her resignation takes effect at the end of Wednesday.
In resignation letters to House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner and Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, Giffords spoke of the need to dedicate herself fully to her recovery from attempt on her life.
She added in the letter that "my district deserves to elect a U.S. Representative who can give 100 percent to the job."
The three-term representative, a political centrist who was seen as a rising star in the House, was holding a meet-and-greet event at a Tucson supermarket on January 8 last year when a gunman opened fire.
Six people were killed, including a 9-year-old girl, a Giffords aide and a federal judge. Twelve others were wounded including Giffords, who was shot through the head.
She has since received intensive therapy at a Texas hospital to recover from the injury that left her with broken speech and a marked limp.
Jared Loughner was charged with first-degree murder, the attempted assassination of Giffords and other crimes stemming from the shooting. He pleaded not guilty and was found mentally unfit to stand trial.
Since the shooting, Giffords has appeared in the House chamber only two other times. In August, she surprised her fellow lawmakers when she showed up to vote for controversial legislation raising U.S. borrowing authority.
On Tuesday night, Giffords was embraced by President Barack Obama when he arrived in the House to deliver his State of the Union address.
During tributes on Wednesday that lasted about an hour, Boehner, like many lawmakers in the chamber, choked up and dabbed at his face with a tissue. The Republican speaker kissed Giffords twice after helping her to the chamber's podium.
At a time of deep political divisions in Congress and across the United States, House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said, "Congresswoman Giffords' message of bipartisanship and civility is one that all in Washington and in the nation should honor and emulate."
Watching the tribute from a gallery in the House chamber was Giffords' mother, Gloria. The congresswoman's husband, Mark Kelly, a U.S. astronaut who in May commanded one of the final space shuttle missions, also attended the session.
As Giffords exited the House chamber, she was aided by an emotional Wasserman-Schultz and embraced by a tearful House aide.
Giffords announced on Sunday she would step down, and has since carried out final visits and duties in the swing district where she won re-election by only 4,000 votes in 2010, a year when many Democrats lost seats as Republicans took control of the House.
She cast a last vote in the House on Wednesday for legislation she crafted with Flake to levy new penalties on traffickers using small, low-flying aircraft to smuggle drugs across the U. S. border from Mexico.
In a rare display of bipartisanship, the vote on the legislation was 408-0.
(Additional reporting by Richard Cowan and Susan Cornwell, Editing by Paul Thomasch and Peter Cooney)