By Lisa Mascaro, Tribune Washington Bureau –
WASHINGTON — Former Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords visited the White House on Friday as President Barack Obama signed into law her bill that clamps down on ultralight planes used in drug smuggling.
The Democratic congresswoman has retired to focus on her recovery, but colleagues gave her legislation unanimous approval in an emotional send off last month.
“This bill gives our nation’s law enforcement expanded authority to combat illicit drug trafficking on our Northern and Southern Borders and being able to sign it next to my friend Gabby Giffords gives me enormous pride,” Obama said Friday in a statement at the bill signing ceremony.
“The fact that it passed unanimously shows just how much Gabby is respected by her colleagues in Congress in both parties,” he said. “Her dedication to fairness and to this country has been an inspiration to so many, including myself.”
Giffords, a popular congresswoman, was shot in the head a year ago as she met with constituents outside a Tucson grocery store when a gunman opened fire at the event. Six people died and 12 others were wounded that day.
The incident came during a period of fierce partisanship in Washington and led to calls for civility in politics.
Giffords made an emotional return to Congress to submit her resignation last month, steadily walking with the help of a colleague to the Speaker’s chair, where John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, choked up as he accepted her statement.
The legislation, which she co-authored with Republican Rep. Jeff Flake of Arizona, would allow law enforcement to target the pilots of ultralight planes used in drug smuggling with the same penalties applied to those who ferry drugs by autos or other planes. A loophole had imposed softer penalties on ultralights.
The congresswoman’s seat will be contested this spring and again in fall, but she has vowed to return to public life.
The president said he told Giffords that he expected “to see more of her in the months and years to come.”
“I’m confident that while this legislation may have been her last act as a Congresswoman, it will not be her last act of public service,” he said.