The congresswoman shot and critically injured in an Arizona shooting spree on Saturday was one of 19 Democrats who snubbed Rep. Nancy Pelosi in the vote for minority leader on Wednesday -- a fact that may make it harder for liberals to tie the attack to tea party rhetoric.
Instead of voting for Pelosi, who was the incumbent speaker of the House, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., voted for civil rights hero Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., himself the victim of politically motivated violence. Pelosi defeated Rep. Heath Shuler of North Carolina to become minority leader.
In the spring of 1961, Lewis and other students challenged the racial segregation of interstate buses in the Freedom Rider protests and were beaten bloody by a Klan-backed mob in the Montgomery, Ala., bus terminal. Four years later, Lewis led more than 600 protesters across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., where they were subjected to tear gas and clubbing by police on a day that came to be known as Bloody Sunday.
Giffords won re-election by a thin margin in November to her swing district hugging the Mexican border. Her victory came after a campaign in which she emphasized centrist positions on immigration, border security and Second Amendment rights.
Ron Kampeas, Washington reporter for the JTA global Jewish news service, has frequently covered the Jewish congresswoman. He commented Wednesday that "Giffords barely won her Tucson-area seat, even after steering right of the party on immigration issue, which makes this vote a natch for her."
Such a large number of defections from a party's House members on a speakership vote had not been seen since the early 20th century.
Giffords office said on Wednesday regarding her vote against Pelosi: "The congresswoman's vote for Rep. John Lewis signaled her desire for courageous leadership and high moral standards at a critical time in our nation's history. He is one of our nation's most prominent civil rights leaders and a hero to all Americans."
Of the 193 Democrats in the new House of Representatives, Giffords is one of only 26 who are members of the moderate Blue Dog Coalition -- reduced from 54 Blue Doggers in the previous Congress thanks to Republicans defeating numerous centrist Democrats by tying them to President Barack Obama and Pelosi's big-government agenda.
Giffords' speakership vote against Pelosi further complicates the post-attack liberal spin, which suggests that conservative rage was behind the incident. U.S. District Court Judge John Roll, appointed by President George H.W. Bush, was killed, as were six others, including a 9-year-old girl and three people who were in their 70s -- one of whom was a church pastor.
The suspected gunman, Jared Lee Loughner, apparently listed "The Communist Manifesto," and Adolf Hitler's "Mein Kampf" as among his favorite books on a website profile of himself; a single favorite YouTube video listed showed a burning of the American flag accompanied by heavy metal music with the lyric "let the bodies hit the floor" repeated dozens of times.
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