WASHINGTON -- Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) had been thinking about leaving Congress "for a while," but it wasn't until she returned to Tucson for the anniversary of the Jan. 8 shootings that nearly took her life that her decision to resign "came into focus," said Giffords' close friend, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.).
"Gabby doesn't do anything halfway," Wasserman Schultz told The Huffington Post. And for someone who puts "150 percent of herself into everything ... there was a realization that while her recovery has been remarkable ... progress is going to be a matter of years rather than months."
There wasn't something specific that happened that led to Giffords' making up her mind, Wasserman Schultz said. Returning to Tucson a year after the shootings just "forced her to really reflect on what she should do." And once Giffords decided that she wouldn't run again in 2012, she figured it would be better to step down now to give Democratic party leaders more time to line up another candidate to replace her.
"This was such a quintessential Gabby Giffords decision. She could have decided to fill her term out and not run for re-election," said Wasserman Schultz, who is also chairwoman of the Democratic National Campaign.
While it was a tough decision, Giffords "was not upset" when she finally made up her mind, Wasserman Schultz said. "There's such a mixture of feelings. She was confident she made the right decision. Of course she's sad. She loves serving the people of her district. She's passionate about what she does."
Wasserman Schultz said Giffords told her last week she wasn't going to run. But even before that, the two had had several conversations in which it was becoming apparent that Giffords was leaning toward stepping down. "I could just tell in the way she answered me" when asked about 2012, said Wasserman Schultz. "The last couple of times we talked, I realized ... 'I don't think she's going to run.'"
Politically speaking, Giffords represents a competitive district and Republicans are certainly going to make a run to take it over. Wasserman Schultz downplayed the idea that the GOP could win it, however.
"Democrats have won since 2006," she said. Particularly in light of Giffords' story and the fact that her constituents are "solidly supportive" of the issues she has focused on, this "is not a district likely to take a hard right turn."
Giffords' official last day is expected to be a week from Monday, Jan. 30. Once her resignation is official, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer has 72 hours to announce a primary to replace her, which would be held 80 to 90 days later. Following that, a general election would be held in 50 to 60 days after the primary.
Wasserman Schultz added that Giffords plans to return to public service one day. "Maybe Congress," she said.