POLITICS
11/30/2011 06:42 pm ET

House Honors Slain Aide To Rep. Giffords, Briefly Remembers Bipartisanship

WASHINGTON -- It only lasted for about an hour, but bipartisanship took hold in the House on Wednesday as lawmakers lined up in support of a measure to honor Gabe Zimmerman, the aide to Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) who was killed in the Tucson shootings on Jan. 8.

One by one, the entire Arizona delegation -- a mix of five Republicans and two Democrats who span the full ideological spectrum -- gave emotional speeches in favor of a resolution to name a room in the Capitol complex after Zimmerman, the first congressional staffer killed in the line of duty. Zimmerman, one of six people killed, was Giffords' community outreach director.

"I was fortunate enough to be in Tucson just a few hours after the shooting and was with those assembled at the hospital ... when it was confirmed that Gabe Zimmerman had lost his life," said Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), a staunch fiscal conservative. "I wish all that are within the sound of my voice today could feel in that room ... the love that was felt for this good man, for the work that he did for our colleague."

"It's not his death but his work and his ideals that should be recognized here," said Congressional Progressive Caucus Co-Chair Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.). "So as we honor Gabe, we honor those staff people that work for us that will sometimes make us look better than we are to those staff people that work for us that sometimes have to deal with the controversies that we create."

"Everyone in this place should embrace this bill because it is a testament to the noble dedication of a young congressional staffer who lost his life in the service of his country," said Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), a member of the Tea Party Caucus.

While debate on a resolution may not seem like a big deal, it took months of behind-the-scenes wrangling just to get it to the floor. And nobody could point to why. It stalled for months in the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, where the bulk of its members were cosponsors of the measure. Separate attempts to move it through Congress via other means also failed.

Given that the measure had more than 350 cosponsors as of last month -- it's now up to 402 -- and it incurs no real costs, the only apparent obstacle was Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio). Aides to House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), who sets the floor schedule, routinely punted questions about delays to Boehner. The speaker's office was mum on the issue until last month, when a Boehner spokesman said he had other ideas for honoring Zimmerman, but gave no details.

The resolution suddenly turned up on the House schedule last week, and for the first time, Boehner gave a public show of support for it during a floor speech earlier Wednesday.

"I think it is fitting and appropriate to honor Gabe Zimmerman with a permanent memorial in the United States Capitol," Boehner said.

During debate on the resolution, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) appeared to hint at the concerted effort it took to bring the otherwise noncontroversial measure to the floor.

"I thank Congresswoman Wasserman Schultz for her leadership, persistence, determination, advocacy, relentlessness in making this possible," Pelosi said.

The House on Thursday will vote on the resolution, which designates room HVC 215 of the Capitol Visitor Center as the "Gabriel Zimmerman Meeting Room." According to Giffords' office, the formal dedication of the room will take place in early 2012, when a plaque bearing Zimmerman's likeness will be unveiled.

"We deeply appreciate this show of support by the House of Representatives," Ben Zimmerman, Gabe's brother, said in a statement. "This is a wonderful way to memorialize my brother, Gabe."

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), the sponsor of the resolution and a friend to Giffords, was choked up throughout the series of speeches. She became the most visibly emotional as she thanked Rep. Dave Schweikert (R-Ariz.) for having "such courage" to work across the aisle with her to collect cosponsors for the resolution.

"This is a very challenging and difficult time for our nation," said Wasserman Schultz, who is also the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee. "It's my hope that as hard as it is and as hard as it has become for us to engage in civil discourse, that we really all redouble our efforts ... myself included, to make sure that we can earn the respect and earn every day the privilege that our constituents have given us to represent them here."

Doing so will mean that "Gabriel Zimmerman did not die in vain," she added.

But her call for civility didn't last long. As lawmakers moved on to new business -- debate on a rule for a regulatory bill -- Rep. Rob Woodall (R-Ga.) lashed out at fellow House Rules Committee member Rep. James McGovern (D-Mass.) for injecting partisanship into their debate on the bill.

"I think it's been about 11 minutes since my colleague Debbie Wasserman Schultz called for a toning down of the rhetoric and focusing more on policy, and I don't think we were able to make it to minute 15," Woodall said.

"I'll quote my friend [McGovern] as he referred to Republicans: 'Either they don't care about the economy or they are just acting for political gain.' Is that all there is?" he asked. "It could be that their principles are different."

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