Patterico's Pontifications


It is Time to Speak of Declaring Gabby Giffords’ Seat Vacant

Filed under: General — Aaron Worthing @ 11:14 am

[Guest post by Aaron Worthing; if you have tips, please send them here.  Or by Twitter @AaronWorthing.]

Last Friday we passed a grim milestone.  Gabby Giffords was shot in the head on January 8, 2011.  She thankfully survived.  So it has been three months since that day and the Daily Beast has an update on her condition:

For a politician such as Giffords, one key ambition of the rehabilitation process is helping to restore the ability to speak. Giffords speaks haltingly, stringing together three- or four-word responses to questions, and is beginning to formulate entire sentences. Morrow is working to help her recapture the ability to use language through song—the rhythmic strains of a familiar tune, such as “Happy Birthday,” triggering compensatory language activity in undamaged parts of the brain. “Language is messed up… But the brain can make up for itself. What doctors have found is that whenever you sing a song, the motor areas are lighting up, the emotional areas—all these different parts of the brain are working to get that song out. So, I’m going in through another way, to create a new pathway to language.”

Because of the near-mystical way in which the brain heals itself, it is impossible for doctors to predict precisely what the new normal ultimately will be for a given patient. Even so, Kim, the neurosurgeon, remains optimistic. This is partly because the bullet that went through Giffords’ brain injured the left hemisphere, which controls speech and movement on the right side of the body. Partial paralysis may result, but in the context of recovering from brain injury, doctors place less emphasis on that than on other factors. “Motor weakness, for example, is not that big a deal, compared with cognitive things,” Kim says. “So, first of all, is your personality going to be like it was before? Are you going to have the same kind of mental abilities, and think through things, and understand? And the social-relationship part—how sensitive are you to other people’s emotions? Do you want to relate? A lot of that function, it turns out, is in the right side of the brain.”

In Giffords’ case, the answer to Kim’s questions about cognitive ability is an emphatic yes. “We joke around, and I tell her all the funny things that happen in Washington, and she laughs,” says Pia Carusone, Giffords’ chief of staff. “When we say her personality is there, I mean, she’s like 100 percent there.” Carusone, who travels to Houston each week, says that Giffords communicates with her through “a combination of body language, personality, and speech. It’s some words, it’s expressions on her face.”

At times, members of her family and staff have had to try to surmise her wishes, asking themselves, “What would Gabby want?” They also have had to decide what to tell her about what happened and when. In the early weeks of her recovery, Giffords apparently believed that she’d been involved in an auto accident. Her family, friends, and staff carefully censored themselves when visiting her, avoiding any talk of the horrific events of Jan. 8. When her Arizona staff made a best-wishes video to send to Giffords, her district director, Ron Barber, who was severely wounded in the attack, carefully positioned himself on-camera to disguise his injuries.

And it is very interesting and you should read the whole thing.  Now, first, contrary to the suggestion of the article, I don’t think speaking is a bona fide occupational qualification for a Congressperson.  That would effectively mean that no deaf person could be a Congressperson, if they lack the ability to speak, and that is wrong.  Of course a non-speaking person probably has a very difficult time convincing the people to vote for him or her anyway, but it’s not an automatic disqualifier.  But it goes beyond speaking into how much she comprehends.  They can’t even tell her why she was in this condition.  Do we think she knows anything about the recent budget deal?  Or Libya?

But we don’t have to get into a detailed debate about her capacity.  Her assessment has already been conceded.  She is not in Congress today and hasn’t been there for three whole months.  Now, it is true that longer absences have occurred.  For instance when Rep. Preston Brooks beat Sen. Charles Sumner for accusing Brooks’ uncle Sen. Andrew Butler of making a mistress of the “Harlot Slavery” in 1856, Sen. Sumner didn’t regain his seat until the Civil War began.  He was even reelected while proclaiming himself unable to resume his job.  And I argued  from the very beginning that this it would be an injustice if the people of Arizona were denied their chosen representative, writing:

I don’t know or particularly care what she stood for on each of the issues.  She could have been for everything I am against and against everything I am for.  Because to me the issue is higher than normal politics.  It’s the fact that she was chosen to represent her district and as such they are entitled to the representative they have chosen.  And one man has vetoed that decision, an act that is unacceptable in a Republic.

And anyone who follows closely knows that I have been pulling for her to return to Congress from the beginning, so “we can agree and disagree with you as we normally do on the ordinary political questions.”  In a very unfortunate choice of language I wrote to one person:

[I] mean she has been out a month and you are ready to replace her. [T]hat seems to be pulling the trigger a little too fast for my blood. [I] think we shouldn’t talk permanent replacement just yet.

Seriously, Charles, I meant metaphorically pulling the trigger.  Really!!!

But although it is unacceptable for one criminal to deny the people of Arizona their voice in Congress, it is the reality we live with.  Now there is a state law on the subject of dubious constitutionality, but it is obviously the case that the House of Representatives can declare her seat vacant, requiring the Governor to call an election.  So let me suggest this as a procedure.  Declare the seat vacant, hold the special election and then …  let Gabby run for the seat if she wants.  If the people of Arizona prefer to keep her on until she is able to serve again, then we in the rest of the country can hardly complain.  But they should give their opinion on the subject.

Oh and Democrats, if this is what is on your mind

Representative Gabrielle Giffords is still in the hospital, but some of her most ardent backers are so enamored of the idea of her running for the Senate that they describe the inevitable campaign commercials: the deep-voiced narrator recounting what happened to her, the images of her wounded, then recovering and speaking into the camera alongside her astronaut husband to call on Arizonans to unite.

…don’t do it.  It’s a bad, bad idea.  Worst idea since the Wellstone funeral.

Seriously, what could be a better example of victim-status politics than that?  They aren’t arguing that she should be reelected because she is the best and the brightest, or because she supports the policies you believe in. Nor are they arguing that she should be reelected in spite of being the victim of a crime.  They are saying to elect her because she was the victim of a crime.  Does that make any sense to you?

No one wants to see the assassin’s veto be exercised, and as long as she is alive there is a natural desire to be optimistic that it can be avoided.  But at three months, it is time to face facts.  She is not doing her job.  And that means at the very least the people of Arizona should have to decide whether they still want her to have this job.

Update: As is often the case, I gloss over what Althouse hones in on:

The Giffords team began to consider the Senate race, and the position some came to was, why not? There was no way of knowing whether Giffords would be able to mount a campaign, but if she recovered enough to serve in the House, why not the Senate? As one person in Giffords’ circle put it, “I think she will be unbeatable whatever she runs for.”

“Let’s say that she’s 90 percent [recovered],” says Mike McNulty, Giffords’ last campaign chairman. “Well, we’ve had congressmen in Arizona who didn’t even have a brain. So, it’s not like you have to be as talented as she is to be good at it.”

So the Daily Beast is all about exposing us to one beast of a person every day?  Is that where the name comes from?

[Posted and authored by Aaron Worthing.]

49 Responses to “It is Time to Speak of Declaring Gabby Giffords’ Seat Vacant”

  1. Well, heck, Joe Biden is VP, and he still hasn’t recovered from whatever it was that happened to him.

    gp (72be5d)

  2. There’s no legal basis to declare the seat vacant as the US Constitution and only the US Constitution sets the qualification for Federal offices.

    Noah (026d7f)

  3. she’s doing a lot less damage now than when she was voting to shove bumble’s dirty socailist health care scheme down our little country’s throat

    happyfeet (a55ba0)

  4. *socialist* I mean

    happyfeet (a55ba0)

  5. noah

    article 1, section 2:

    > When vacancies happen in the Representation from any State, the Executive
    Authority thereof shall issue Writs of Election to fill such Vacancies.

    Aaron Worthing (e7d72e)

  6. happy

    first, a little respect for the injured.

    Second, the issue of whether you like her politics or not is beside the point.

    Aaron Worthing (e7d72e)

  7. If Nancy Pelosi was still Speaker of the House, I’m sure she would push to have Gabby return .. likewise for the ideal of Gabby running for Senate.
    Both Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid would prefer a “brain dead” caucus which leaves Gabby as “over qualified.”

    Barry (03e5c2)

  8. I’m just saying if I had my druthers she can stay put and sing.

    happyfeet (a55ba0)

  9. Yes, I guess it’s not surprise that I agree, Aaron.

    It seemed clear to me pretty soon after this shooting that Rep Giffords is not going to be returning to complete her term of office. If she recovered, it was going to be quite a while.

    The idea that this seat isn’t vacant is a fiction.

    I think her husband could have easily filled the vacancy (via an election or appointment). He probably is the best one available to carry on her political mission.

    What’s more important to me is that her district’s wishes in electing Rep Giffords be honored. We shouldn’t let a psycho deny that representation, even if we are fueled by a wish to not take something else away from this woman.

    There’s no legal basis to declare the seat vacant

    Noah, it’s vacant.

    Dustin (c16eca)

  10. Dustin,

    Whats the law – does the governor appoint a 6 month replacement until a special election can be called?

    Also, in respect to representative Giffords – I think this manuevering is being done withut her knowledge or consent

    I’m going on that until/unless she says otherwise

    EricPWJohnson (ab3c7f)

  11. she’s doing a lot less damage now than when she was voting to shove bumble’s dirty socailist health care scheme down our little country’s throat

    Comment by happyfeet

    Her district elected an Obamacare voter, whether they should have or not. The problem isn’t and wasn’t Giffords, but rather with convincing the voters not to support those ideas. You can’t win this argument by brute force, but you can lose it that way.

    just think about your Palin arguments. Those don’t do her any harm. Telling Arizona that Obamacare is a bad idea, and why, is the only way to get them to elect congressmen who agree with you. In fact, martyring Giffords has an obvious benefit to leftists. I suspect Giffords is doing more for the leftist narrative now than she did as a blue dog House vote.


    Mike McNulty is a ghoulish, disgusting man. We really should try to make him famous for trying to run this woman in a Senate election. I think this cuts to the core of what power is for. Is the House seat or Senate seat about giving the people a functional, responsible government, or is it a prize to be awarded to our heroic elite leaders?

    Mike thinks the latter. That this seat would be no use to Giffords doesn’t change Mike’s idea that she somehow deserves it.

    Dustin (c16eca)

  12. Not that you were saying otherwise either – I didnt mean to imply that

    EricPWJohnson (ab3c7f)

  13. A.W. – Tim Johnson from South Dakota took almost nine months to return to the Senate in 2007.

    daleyrocks (bf33e9)

  14. I say that it’s none of our business how long she stays in office—except for those of us who live in her district. (I am not one.) I really do think that is a decision her state and her constituents need to make for themselves. Now, if she runs again, particularly for the Senate, that’s a different story.

    mcg (ac50ad)

  15. Ted Kennedy was largely awol for over a year if I remember right.

    happyfeet (a55ba0)

  16. EPWJ, I thought the law was that Brewer could call a primary election in 72 hours, and then a general election soon after.

    The fact is that she won’t. This is all academic. The democrats are snarlingly ready to pounce, the anti-federalists are insisting the state has absolutely no right to be represented in Congress unless the ‘federal’ government somehow agrees that an office that hasn’t been occupied for months is really vacant (even if we all know it is absolutely vacant, and the constitution Arizona agreed to had a provision for replacing vacancies).

    My memory (which ain’t perfect) was that House members have to be elected, but I think Mr Giffords would have no problem being elected.

    Frankly, the claims that Giffords is making a miraculous recovery and there’s some plausible chance she’s going to be perfectly ok, struck me as the most disgusting political scheming surrounding this shooting. Sure, hope is great, but lying isn’t. Some of these people knew a lot better than they were letting on. They want Ms Giffords to be some kind of demagoguery blunt instrument.

    I think many of these people insisting the seat isn’t really vacant are out of their minds, but Gov Brewer is not stupid, and she’s not going to be demonized. These terms are short, and soon there will be a normally scheduled election.

    Just one other point: should Obama replace Judge Roll with a conservative? It’s only fair, if there’s an idea we should replace Giffords with someone similar to her political view (I think that would be best).

    Dustin (c16eca)

  17. Ted Kennedy was largely awol for over a year if I remember right.

    Not really. He was able to vote on something important, but also he didn’t bother if his vote didn’t make a difference. For example, he missed a stimulus bill, but participated in the pre-vote tally (which showed he didn’t need to appear).

    That’s active enough representation.

    Sure, we have a lot of Howard Coble aged reps who frankly aren’t offering 100% anymore, but that’s a legitimate choice the people can make. It’s not the same as someone with much of their brain damaged, some missing, in a bed, trying to put three words together every few days.

    Dustin (c16eca)

  18. yes it is different Mr. Dustin but it was still really bizarre – like Thurmond and Byrd, Kennedy was weirdly insistent that he was going to die in office – I don’t get how that’s supposed to reflect well on someone

    Hey speaking of dying in office did we know this?

    On September 30, 2010 Congress appropriated $193,400 to be paid equally among Sen. Byrd’s children and grandchildren, representing the salary he would have earned in the next fiscal year; a common practice when members of Congress die in office

    So we actually incentivize the dyings in office. Ever get the feeling that America really sucks at this game?

    happyfeet (a55ba0)

  19. I don’t get how that’s supposed to reflect well on someone

    Yeah, you have a point. It’s certainly selfish. All these old men know that their districts are better off with fresher representatives because they too had to deal with this when they were younger men.

    “representing the salary he would have earned in the next fiscal year”]

    That’s disgusting. That’s just stealing from the treasury to give a gift to the ruling class. Absolutely disgusting. They think they are royalty, and this is theirs.

    Dustin (c16eca)

  20. It’s clear that both Houses of Congress need to address the issue of members rendered incapacitated by illness or injury for long periods of time. Neither House has any rules covering this, and we’ve had the cases of Johnson, Kennedy, and Giffords to bring the issue up.

    The Constitution gives each House the authority to expel a member (requires a two-thirds majority), they could use that to “expel” a member on grounds of having been incapacitated for “too long” and likely to remain so. The politics involved…

    LarryD (feb78b)

  21. Larry, I don’t think the House would have to use the term ‘expel’, but could just declare the seat vacant.

    Regardless, I disagree. She’s not the federal government’s representative. She’s Arizona’s. The seat is plainly vacant, and Arizona should replace her. Brewer should call for elections, and that’s it. Just like that.

    Sure, someone would shamelessly pretend this is unconstitutional, but let them prove it in court. The constitution says this is OK if the seat is vacant, so let whoever sue Arizona and then prove that the seat isn’t vacant.

    We have allowed liars to work our legal system into a pretzel, but the constitution isn’t confusing on this issue. A earnest attempt to apply the law should be easy.

    Oh wait, what’s that you said?

    “The politics involved…”

    Yeah, that’s the real problem. Brewer will try to avoid this issue completely.

    Dustin (c16eca)

  22. Think I can safely say, Gov Brewer would not replace Gabby with a liberal if she does get to appoint someone. And her district is one of the most liberal in the state.

    A little off subject, but who pays if they don’t have the sick leave/annual leave. A regular Govt worker wouldn’t get paid if they ran out of leave. Perhaps it is insensitive of me to bring it up, but why should they be any different than other Govt workers? Whichever party they represent. Oh, wait, they are better than the rest of us, so they probably don’t even have to worry about such trivial things.

    PatAZ (d09837)

  23. So we actually incentivize the dyings in office. Ever get the feeling that America really sucks at this game?


    carlitos (00428f)

  24. Think I can safely say, Gov Brewer would not replace Gabby with a liberal if she does get to appoint someone. And her district is one of the most liberal in the state.

    It seems like the best outcome is to allow this district, as liberal as it may be, to choose who should fill the vacancy. I’m not sure if Brewer would replace Giffords with a conservative (she can’t appoint the replacement, as far as I know) because it would be politically stupid, with minimal benefit.

    Dustin (c16eca)

  25. Hell, Strom Thurmond and Robert Byrd were barely conscious the last few years of their terms. Both probably were sitting in piles of their own waste without being aware of it, and yet their constituents kept voting for ’em anyway.

    But…yeah…Gabby’s seat should be declared vacant. The people of Arizona deserve representation.

    RobbieC (d49b11)

  26. robbie

    well, also in the case of thurmond and byrd, they were like that for years. polls indicated that voters in S.C. voted for thurmond in part because they thought he might die w/o senate healthcare.

    i mean if the people want half a representative, i am totally cool with that. but they should express that wish at the ballot box.

    they should hold a special election.

    Aaron Worthing (e7d72e)

  27. Regardless of her politics nothing would make me happier than for Ms Giffords to recover fully and reclaim her seat in the 112th congress. But I think we all realize that that is unlikely if not impossible. It’s just not going to happen. With her constituents being utterly without representation the only reasonable thing is for her seat to be declared vacant. But I think we all realize that that is not going to happen, either. She is simply too valuable both as a symbol, and as a news story, and therefore a potent money machine bringing in political contributions for her “good friend” Ms. Wasserman-Schultz.

    elissa (5aefd1)

  28. Elissa – Debbie the civility high priestess makes me want to spit.

    JD (109425)

  29. Every Republic an should back Giffords for theDemocrat Party nomination for Senate. It’s a noble act of charity and respect and almost-guaranteed victory for the Republican candidate.

    ErisGuy (02d37b)

  30. i mean if the people want half a representative, i am totally cool with that. but they should express that wish at the ballot box.

    We need a caveat that those lying about Giffords’s condition are cheating the voters. Many democrats were insisting that Giffords was making a miraculous recovery, and that they expected her to be back to work soon. This was, quite simply, a lie. God Bless her and her family, and the tragic truth should be known. If Giffords is to be the representative, then the voters should see exactly what her status is. They should be able to meet her, petition her to help them, or vote certain ways.

    Dustin (c16eca)

  31. dustin

    well, we don’t have to invade her medical privacy. just say, “if you cannot come and vote, you’re done.”

    Aaron Worthing (e7d72e)

  32. well, we don’t have to invade her medical privacy.

    I certainly don’t want do, but I do think if her voters are not allowed to talk to her, face to face, ever, she’s not their representative.

    It’s a sick little game these Mike McNulty types are playing, where she can run without any criticism or scrutiny, and if someone wants to put a camera in front of her, and hear her attempt to say something, that’s a disgusting invasion of privacy.

    I guess I would just hope that these people in power would be adults for once. Instead of forcing proof she’s vacant, which would involve such an invasion, just be honest. no one thinks she’s representing anyone in congress right now. Some on the left think there’s an advantage in playing this tragedy up, and some on the right fear being hit with that bludgeon.

    I think Americans are a lot smarter than either side gives them credit for being. Gov Brewer could make a phone call to Mr Giffords, and they could announce his candidacy in a special election to prove violence doesn’t work in American politics.

    Dustin (c16eca)

  33. Emotionally, I’m split on this. Given the low-quality of some of the other Democratic reps in Congress (anyone in Shelia Jackson Lee’s district is Houston can say they’ve been without representation for over a decade), I feel like if the voters in her Tucson district are willing to let Giffords remain in office through 12-31-12, that’s their decision, because she’s their representative.

    But at the same time, knowing the Democratic spin machine, they’re going to do they’re darndest not just to downplay any long-term disability Giffords might have that would limit her effectiveness as a Congresswoman, but would use the disability as a sympathy crutch to push a Senate bid by her in 2012 (to the point that I can picture that even if she were the equivalent of Timmy on “South Park”, the Dems would still try to turn her into John Kyl’s replacement).

    John (a1b69f)

  34. Wow–Mr. McNulty joins Murray Chass in the “lower than whale excrement at the bottom of the Mariana Trench” club.

    M. Scott Eiland (27aed4)

  35. Dustin – I disagree with your opinion of Gov Brewer and what she would do if she could. But from what I just read, it does appear the Governor has to call for a special election in case of a vacancy. So both our opinions go out the window. And that quite likely means another liberal would be elected in Gabby’s district. Don’t think her keepers are going to admit defeat anytime soon though.

    PatAZ (d09837)

  36. they’ll only elect a liberal if they want to bankrupt America and bequeath a squalid future of hopelessness to their childrens

    happyfeet (a55ba0)

  37. No let happyfeet run for the seat.

    DohBiden (984d23)

  38. I’d be no fun as a rep mostly I’d just vote however Paul Ryan voted cause of that way I wouldn’t have to think so much about the issues and I’d have lots of spare time to go to the Smithsonian and see the dinosaurs.

    happyfeet (a55ba0)

  39. I disagree with your opinion of Gov Brewer and what she would do if she could

    Well, you’re probably right and I’m probably wrong, then, since I’m just basing this on what I’d do, and you seem to be basing this on paying attention to Brewer.

    “So both our opinions go out the window. ”


    Dustin (c16eca)

  40. Am I the only one bothered by the familiarity of calling her by her first name, when none of us know her, and she hasn’t invited us to do so? And am I completely off base in imagining that I see this a lot with women but not nearly as much with men?

    Milhouse (ea66e3)

  41. You know she has to be alot worse off than the media made her out to be…

    Heidi (a9a9b3)

  42. I call Sen Durbin by his first name all the ti me. Dick.

    JD (4a42c9)

  43. About her name, I get the same vibe, Milhouse.

    I think, to some extent, many politicians like the idea of being called by their first name.

    I’ve watched many of her campaign ads, and she is willing to use her first name, but almost always with her last name. If her campaign refers to her by one name, it’s just “Giffords”. BTW, I do think she was a pretty reasonable blue dog, despite her Obamacare vote.

    Dustin (c16eca)

  44. So let me suggest this as a procedure. Declare the seat vacant, hold the special election and then … let Gabby run for the seat if she wants.
    — Well, how mighty caucasian of you to ‘suggest’ that Gabby be allowed to re-run for the seat that she already holds.

    If the people of Arizona prefer to keep her on until she is able to serve again, then we in the rest of the country can hardly complain. But they should give their opinion on the subject.
    — One would hope that ‘the rest of the country’ would actually respect the U.S. Constitution and the rights of other states. And when you say “they should give their opinion on the subject,” are you supporting a democratic (as opposed to republican, AS STATED IN THE COTUS) form of government?

    Icy Texan (6d1815)

  45. Icy, according the constitution, we should fill vacant House seats. And this one is vacant.

    You’re right, though. It would be contrary to the values of the Republic to allow the people to have someone in Ms Giffords’s state refill the seat we are having an election to fill, due to her vacancy. That would be democracy gone too far, IMO.

    Dustin (c16eca)

  46. How do you determine when the seat is “vacant”, Dustin? Is it when a Senator in the Illinois state assembly only shows up part of the time — and only then to vote “present”? WHERE in the COTUS or the rules of the House does it define what a vacant seat is? Aaron is saying ‘let the people decide’ when they already have decided. If (IF!) the people wish to conduct a recall election then let them circulate petitions and gather signatures to do so. But, to just declare an election — when she has NOT become deceased, nor been impeached or declared non compo mentis is, it seems to me, a subversion of our form of representative government.

    Icy Texan (6d1815)

  47. icy

    > Well, how mighty caucasian of you to ‘suggest’ that Gabby be allowed to re-run for the seat that she already holds.

    i am sorry, are you insinuating that i see it this way because i am white?

    Aaron Worthing (e7d72e)

  48. Turn of a phrase, Aaron. It refers to someone doling out a privilege that is not his to give.

    Icy Texan (68b024)

  49. How do you determine when the seat is “vacant”, Dustin?

    Is there someone doing the job? No. In fact, the citizens have a right to petition their congressperson. Can they? No. they do not have a congressperson at all. There is no chance for voting or even contemplation of legislation.

    Is it when a Senator in the Illinois state assembly only shows up part of the time — and only then to vote “present”?

    I see the potential for a slippery slope. But our laws and constitution is CRAMMED with that potential. When you do you say something is infringing on free speech? When you criminalize libel?

    That’s why we have a judicial branch, to interpret the constitution and our laws.

    And honest interpretation would realize this is a clear case where a seat is vacant, while a lazy Senator who votes present, or doesn’t vote often, is not vacant.

    However, if that Senator quit his job and moved to another country, then it’s vacant. Honestly, this doesn’t strike me as a tough interpretive issue.

    Dustin (c16eca)

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