President Obama in Tucson: "The Forces that Divide Us are Not as Strong as Those that Unite Us"
11:00 AM EDT
Last night the President spoke to an emotional crowd at a memorial event in Tucson, Arizona. The grief for the victims of the tragic shooting there was overwhelming, but so too was the admiration for the heroes who risked their lives to prevent even greater loss, as well as the hope for the survivors to see full recoveries. The President asked those in the hall and across America to channel their emotions toward the pursuit of a more perfect union, saying that "If this tragedy prompts reflection and debate -- as it should -- let’s make sure it’s worthy of those we have lost." Watch the President's remarks in full:
One particularly hopeful moment in the President's speech came when he relayed the news that Representative Gabrielle Giffords, who he had visited earlier in the day, had just opened her eyes in her hospital bed for the first time. On the flight back aboard Air Force One, two of Rep. Giffords' good friends in Congress -- Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz -- talked about what it was like to be there for that moment:
Q So tell us what it was like in there. You were just standing around a friend of yours and -- just put it in your terms.
SENATOR GILLIBRAND: Okay, well, I’ll go, and then you’ll go -- okay. Well, we were very excited that we were even going to have the chance of getting to visit her hospital room. We didn’t know when we first came whether we had that opportunity. And so when we did have the chance, we were so excited to get to see her. And when we came in the room, the doctor was there, her parents were there, Mark is there, and the Speaker -- Speaker Pelosi and Debbie and I went in.
And we just were so excited, so we were telling her how proud we were of her and how she was inspiring the whole nation with her courage and with her strength. And then Debbie and I started joking about all the things we were going to do after she got better. And we were holding her hand and she was responding to our hand-holding. She was rubbing our hands and gripping our hands so we could -- she could really -- we knew she could hear and understand what we were saying and she moved her leg, and so we knew she was responding. And the more we joked about what we were going to do, she started to open her eyes literally.
And then you have to recognize, her eyes hadn’t opened -- we didn’t know that -- and so she started to struggle. And one of her eyes is covered with a bandage because it was damaged in the gunfire. So her eye is flickering. And Mark sees this and gets extremely excited. And we didn’t -- I didn’t know what that meant. And so he said, Gabby, open your eyes, open your eyes. And he’s really urging her forward. And the doctor is like perking up and everyone is coming around the bed. And she’s struggling and she’s struggling and it’s a good -- we couldn’t figure it out, maybe 30 seconds, where she’s really trying to get her eyes open, like doing this, this, this.
And then she finally opens her eyes and you could she was like desperately trying to focus and it took enormous strength from her. And Mark could just -- can’t believe it. I mean, he’s so happy. And we’re crying because we’re witnessing something that we never imagined would happen in front of us.
And so Mark says, he says -- he said, Gabby, if you can see me, give us the thumbs up, give us the thumbs up. And so we’re waiting and we’re waiting and --
REPRESENTATIVE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: And she didn’t at first.
SENATOR GILLIBRAND: And we just thought, okay -- and you could watch -- when you’re watching her eyes, she’s really trying to focus. Like you could see she hadn’t opened her eyes in days. And then instead of giving the thumbs up, she literally raises her whole arm like this -- like this. It was unbelievable. And then she reaches out and starts grabbing Mark and is touching him and starts to nearly choke him -- she was clearly trying to hug him.
And so like -- she was -- it was such a moment. And we were just in tears of joy watching this and beyond ourselves, honestly. And then Mark said, you know, touch my ring, touch my ring. And she touches his ring and then she grabs his whole watch and wrist. And then the doctor was just so excited. He said, you don’t understand, this is amazing, what’s she’s doing right now, and beyond our greatest hopes.
And so then they decided we had to go because it was a lot -- (laughter) -- of excitement for her and it was -- we just told her how proud we were and how much we loved her and said we’d visit soon.
But, Gabby, you should describe a little about how you felt --
REPRESENTATIVE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: You know what, she keeps -- she’s been calling me Gabby the whole day. (Laughter.)
SENATOR GILLIBRAND: Debbie has to tell you --
REPRESENTATIVE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: That’s the sixth time she’s called me Gabby. (Laughter.)
SENATOR GILLIBRAND: Debbie has to tell you about what she said after because the way she -- the way Debbie phrased it was I thought very amazing.
REPRESENTATIVE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: It was just -- really, it felt like a miracle. It felt like we were watching a miracle. And Kirsten is totally right -- we just both wanted so badly to be there for her as her friends. We wanted to do -- we wanted to be there for Mark and for her parents. And just the strength that you could see just flowing out of her to get -- it was like she was trying to will her eyes open. It was just -- I mean, it felt --