Sometime in the next week, staffers for Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) expect to open their 10,000th constituent case.
That their boss is in a Houston hospital recovering from a gunshot wound to her head has not slowed the usual stream of requests for help with Medicare or Social Security — and, Giffords’ colleagues and staffers say, it hasn’t slackened the office’s normal pel-mel pace.
With word today that Giffords, who was shot a month ago, is speaking — and in the words of her husband, NASA commander Mark Kelly, showing “encouraging signs,” including eating three meals a day — her colleagues and staffers are optimistic.
“We’re proceeding like normal — that is, normal for the new normal,” Giffords’ spokesman C.J. Karamargin said.
Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) said he has reached out to Giffords’ chief of staff, Pia Carusone, recently to see if there was anything he or colleagues could do to help the office “on a Member level.” But the Giffords team seems to have everything under control, he notes. “We are standing at the ready, though,” he said.
Flake, like many colleagues, greeted the reports of Giffords’ progress. “That’s the best news we’ve heard in a long time,” he said.
Other Members have pitched in, but are finding that the Giffords staffers are operating smoothly. A spokesman for Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), whose district adjoins Giffords’, said the Congresswoman’s office seems to be functioning at full capacity.
Grijalva’s office handled the initial portions of a few constituent cases in the immediate aftermath of the shooting, he said, but it has turned them back over to the Congresswoman’s office in the last few weeks.
Other lawmakers have helped in other ways, including sending staffers in two-hour shifts to help out in Giffords’ Washington office. The staffers helped sort and record the massive numbers of e-mails expressing sympathy and support for the wounded Congresswoman.
Now, interns in Giffords’ Tucson office are logging the missives from well-wishers across the globe, which Karamargin said total more than 20,000.
On legislative matters, Giffords’ legislative director is coordinating with colleagues of Giffords with whom she shares priorities, he said. For example, today, the House approved legislation naming a courthouse in Yuma after John Roll, the federal judge who was slain along with five others in the same shooting that left Giffords wounded.
Karamargin said the office’s focus on keeping its constituent-service function running is part defiance. “We wanted to send a strong message that no act of violence would deter us from what Congresswoman Giffords would want us to do,” he said.
And partly, it’s simply a matter of need: Giffords’ district is home to a large number of veterans and the elderly, who often need help navigating their benefits. Home foreclosures, a large source of constituent woes, are higher there than the national average.
Another reason for the business-as-usual attitude is more personal. When Giffords returns to work, her staff clearly wants to impress her with their accomplishments. “We are looking forward to that, and that’s going to be soon,” he said. “No question about it.”