WASHINGTON — The newest US congressman Ron Barber took the oath of office Tuesday on the House floor, filling the seat vacated by lawmaker Gabrielle Giffords who resigned a year after being shot in the head.
In a bittersweet moment in Congress, lawmakers rose in unison as the Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner swore in Barber, a Democrat who won an emotional special election victory last week to serve the remainder of Giffords's term.
Barber was welcomed warmly by both parties, and in his soft-spoken opening remarks to the House pledged to work "not towards partisan victory but for American achievement."
"I'm mindful that the stakes for our nation are very high," he said. "They are too high not to set aside political division for the sake of common ground."
Barber, a Giffords staffer, became her handpicked successor after she stepped down early this year to focus on her recovery from a gunshot to the brain, which she suffered during a meeting with constituents in Arizona in January, 2011.
The shooting left six people dead including a nine-year-old girl and a federal judge, and wounded 11 people including Barber.
"The world sometimes leads us down strange and troubling paths," said Arizona Democrat Ed Pastor, who said Tuesday was "a tribute to Gabrielle Giffords, a tribute to the resiliency of the people of Arizona."
Arizona Republican Jeff Flake welcomed Barber to the House, saying "we're glad to have you here."
He also noted that Barber, whose grandchildren joined him in the chamber for the swearing-in, was filling the seat Giffords had wanted him to fill.
"She got her wish," Flake said.
The victory in Arizona's politically moderate 8th District means the Democrats keep a seat seen as crucial to their long-shot bid to take back Congress in 2012, after losing control of the House of Representatives in 2010.
The district tilts Republican, but voters rejected the candidacy of Jesse Kelly, a Tea Party Republican who had sought to make the race a referendum on President Barack Obama's handling of the economy ahead of November's White House and congressional elections.
A Kelly victory would have been taken as a sign that voters feel Obama's policies have not done enough to turn around a struggling national economy and reduce the high unemployment rate.
But Barber, 66, was too popular, having clearly benefited from widespread goodwill towards Giffords.
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