Representative Gabrielle Giffords was shot through the head at point-blank range in January, but if you're just going by the headlines, it probably seems like she's bouncing back quickly. There have been a slew of stories about her unexpectedly fast recovery, and a lot of chatter about Giffords being a contender for John Kyl's Senate seat in 2012. Arizona Democrats seem ready to throw every available party resource at Giffords the moment she expresses an interest in that race, and The New York Times pointed out last month that the campaign spots essentially write themselves.
But an article in the latest issue of Newsweek by former New Yorker staff writer Peter Boyer suggests that Giffords's recovery hasn't progressed as far as the public may believe, and that the plans for Giffords to return to Congress are mostly dreams and wishes at this point. Here's some of what we learn from Boyer's piece:
Giffords "does not even know that she is considered a possible candidate" for Kyl's Senate seat. While most everyone agrees that Giffords is incredibly popular and could win any race she chose to enter, she doesn't realize her staff has Senatorial ambitions for her. "We haven't discussed any Senate race with her," said Giffords's husband, Mark Kelly. "And I have no plans to do that for some time. She's focused on her recovery."
For a long time, Giffords didn't know she'd been shot. "In the early weeks of her recovery, Giffords apparently believed that she'd been involved in an auto accident," writes Boyer. Her family and friends avoided telling her about the shooting until "a few weeks ago." According to Boyer, she "still doesn't know ... that among the dead were a 9-year-old girl, her beloved young staffer, Gabe Zimmerman, and her friend, federal Judge John Roll." Pia Carusone, Giffords's chief of staff, says that Giffords is "not able to speak at the level she wants to yet ... So telling her something as tragic as this, without her being to formulate the exact, complex followup questions she wants to, is not fair."
She still has a long road to recovery. "Giffords speaks haltingly, stringing together three- or four-word responses to questions, and is beginning to formulate entire sentences," writes Boyer. He quotes the neurosurgeon Dong Kim, who says that Giffords has shown "much faster recovery than the average patient," but adds that "if somebody has a severe brain injury, are they ever going to be like they were before? The answer is no. They are never going to be the exact same person."
Right now, Giffords's staff is basically doing her job in Congress. After the shooting, "an entity called 'the office of Gabrielle Giffords' ... effectively became the representative for the Eighth District of Arizona," writes Boyer. And it's a potent force. An Arizona Democrat named Rodney Glassman has talked about running for Kyl's Senate seat, but says he'll immediately step out of the way and "turn over his contribution list and infrastructure" to Giffords if she enters the race--even though, as Boyer's article makes clear, we're a long way from that point yet.