WASHINGTON: Ron Barber, a former aide to Gabrielle Giffords who was wounded along with her in a deadly shooting last year, was sworn in on Tuesday to fill the U.S. House of Representatives seat from Arizona she gave up to focus on her recovery from a gunshot wound to the head.
Barber, a 66-year-old Tucson Democrat, won a special election last week to succeed his one-time boss, who retired in January.
"I'm going to approach my work ... with an eye not towards partisan victory but towards American achievement," Barber said in a swearing-in ceremony on the floor of the House, evoking Giffords' reputation as a moderate Democrat in the Republican-led body.
Barber, accompanied by his three granddaughters, waved and smiled from the House floor as members in the chamber cheered.
Barber was shot in the face and thigh when a gunman opened fire with a semiautomatic pistol in January 2011 at an event at which Giffords was speaking outside a Tucson-area supermarket. Six people were killed and 13 were wounded.
Barber spent months in physical therapy. He told Reuters last week he had been "energized" by the campaign and had been walking without a cane for the past two months. He will serve the six months remaining from Giffords' term.
Barber's win was a boost for Democrats before the November 6 election when Democratic President Barack Obama faces off against Republican Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts.
In Arizona, which has favored Republican presidential candidates in every election but one since 1972, Obama trails Romney by 6 percentage points, according to the website Real Clear Politics.
REPUBLICANS OUTNUMBER DEMOCRATS IN DISTRICT
Barber beat Jesse Kelly, a Tea Party-backed Republican and Iraq war veteran in Arizona's 8th Congressional District, where Republicans outnumber Democrats. Barber could face Kelly again in November when voters elect a representative for a full two-year term. Barber has filed a petition to run in that race.
In Arizona, Barber was boosted by an endorsement from Giffords, whose popularity and political stature climbed as she soldiered on through a difficult recovery. Before the shooting, Giffords was seen as a rising Democratic star in the House.
Giffords, 42, has been undergoing rehabilitation in Houston.
Barber had served as Gifford's district director and was her handpicked successor.
Barber has focused his campaign on rebuilding the middle class, protecting the Medicare and Social Security programs for the elderly, bolstering services for veterans and reforming immigration efforts. He has said he wants more agents at the Arizona-Mexico border.
Shortly after he was sworn in, Barber voted for legislation that would give Border Patrol agents increased authority to pursue smugglers.
"Border security is the No. 1 priority for the people who live and work along our nation's southern border," he said in a statement. "There is no doubt that this bill will make our borders more secure."
Barber has also said he wants the nation to be more energy independent, and Tucson to become the "solar capital of the country."
The man charged in the Tucson shooting, Jared Loughner, 23, has pleaded not guilty to 49 criminal offenses, including first-degree murder. He has been declared mentally unfit to stand trial and is undergoing psychiatric treatment at a federal prison hospital in Missouri.