Rep. Erik Paulsen's speech on Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords — the Minnesota Republican considers her a close friend — was a “defining moment” of Wednesday's congressional prayer service, according to at least one lawmaker.
Former Rep. Earl Pomeroy of North Dakota told the Washington Post that Paulsen's speech stood out among the prayers and stories told of Giffords, who was shot on Saturday and remains in critical condition.
Paulsen has known Giffords for several years, as the two became friends before either was elected to Congress. The Minnesota Republican met Giffords in China in 2005 during a fellowship program, and they remained close as both made their way to Washington.
“What I remember most about the trip isn’t the series of lectures or the various officials we met but rather the few extra days that Gabby, (husband) Mark (Kelly) and I spent in China to take in the sites and enjoy each others' company,” Paulsen said at Wednesday's service. The prayer service was closed to media, but Paulsen remarks were provided by his office.
In 2007, Giffords and her family invited Paulsen's family to Florida to watch her husband's space shuttle launch. Giffords also took Paulsen on his first congressional trip overseas to Yemen and Kenya.
Paulsen said in an interview that he was shocked when he got the call Saturday from an aide telling him Giffords had been shot. Paulsen, who was in the Rodel Fellowship program with Giffords, said a group of fellows have joined for several conference calls since the shooting to make sure they're all up to date.
“She's always got that smile on her face, and just really embodies what you want to see in an elected official,” Paulsen said in an interview. “No member would tell you any different...She's very Minnesotan in a way.”
At the prayer service, Paulsen said that he had seen Giffords and her family while visiting the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum with his family last Tuesday, just days before the shooting.
“Like Gabby, we too must display courage, no matter how difficult it may be,” Paulsen said at the service. “Our democracy is predicated on the belief that our government should be accessible by the people. We cannot allow ourselves to give in to fear, or shy away from interacting with the public. There is no doubt that’s what Gabby would want us to do.”