Obama: 'The hopes of a nation are here tonight'
January 13th, 2011
03:02 PM ET

Obama: 'The hopes of a nation are here tonight'

By CNN Wires Staff
TUCSON, Arizona (CNN) –In between consoling those touched by Saturday's Arizona shooting and warning the nation against politicizing the tragedy, President Barack Obama delivered some good news in his address at a Tuscon memorial event on Wednesday.

Rep. Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona has opened her eyes for the first time since being shot four days ago.

"There is nothing I can say that will fill the sudden hole torn in your hearts," Obama said. "But know this: The hopes of a nation are here tonight."

The attack killed six and left Giffords fighting for her life.

Obama told a crowd of thousands that he visited Giffords earlier on Wednesday and that her husband told him that shortly after the president left her room, "Gabby opened her eyes for the first time."

"Gabby opened her eyes so I can tell you know she knows we are here, she knows that we love her and she knows that we are rooting for her through what will undoubtedly be a difficult journey," Obama said.

Obama and his wife Michelle sat next to Giffords' husband, astronaut Mark Kelly, throughout the ceremony, and next to Daniel Hernandez, an intern in Giffords' office who tended to the congresswoman's wounds after she was shot.

Obama called Hernandez a hero in his speech Wednesday, though Hernandez rejected that description in an earlier speech at the memorial event.

The president spoke at the University of Arizona's McKale Memorial Center, which the school said held just under 14,000 people on Wednesday night, with an overflow crowd of 13,000 outside.

Obama spoke about Giffords and briefly eulogized each of those killed in the attack before moving on to warn Americans against assigning blame for the attacks to those other than the gunman.

"At a time when our discourse has become so sharply polarized - at a time when we are far too eager to lay the blame for all that ails the world at the feet of those who think differently than we do - it's important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we are talking with each other in a way that heals, not a way that wounds," Obama said.

"Scripture tells us that there is evil in the world, and that terrible things happen for reasons that defy human understanding," he said. " ... Bad things happen, and we must guard against simple explanations in the aftermath."

"What we can't do is use this tragedy as one more occasion to turn on one another," he said later.

Obama's speech was frequently punctuated by applause and cheers from the crowd, at times seeming to belie the somber reason for the memorial.

But Obama sounded an uplifting tone, saying of the victims: "Our hearts are broken by their sudden passing. Our hearts are broken - and yet, our hearts also have reason for fullness."

Beyond Hernandez, the president praised those who tackled the gunman as he stopped to reload and the medical staff who treated the wounded.

"These men and women remind us that heroism is found not only on the fields of battle," Obama said. "They remind us that heroism does not require special training or physical strength. Heroism is here, all around us, in the hearts of so many of our fellow citizens, just waiting to be summoned - as it was on Saturday morning."

"It was pretty much what the nation needed to hear at this time," said Lorenzo Cotton, a retired architect who attended the speech.

"Tucson is a great place with a lot of great people," Cotton said, adding that Obama's speech "put Tucson back in a positive light. It is a community and it is a place where we all get along and, together, care for each other."

Other public officials took the stage before Obama, with many invoking scripture.

"We will remember how to smile again," Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer said. "We will go forward together."

Secretary of Homeland Security and former Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano, Brewer's predecessor as governor, read from the book of Isaiah, while Attorney General Eric Holder reads from the Second Letter of Paul to the Corinthians.

The crowd was dotted with other prominent Arizonans, including Sen. John McCain and retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.

Earlier Wednesday afternoon, the Obamas visited with Giffords and with other survivors of the shooting and the medical staff that treated them at Tucson's University Medical Center.

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Florida, and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-New York, said they were with the congresswoman when she opened her eyes for the first time since the shooting.

"You could see she was focusing and Mark said, 'Gabby if you can see me, give me the thumbs up' and not only did she give the thumbs up she raised her entire hand," Gillibrand said, referring to Giffords' husband.

"The doctors couldn't believe it," Gillibrand said. "She went from opening her eyes really just in slits to opening them nearly fully."

Obama visited about 100 people at the hospital, a White House aide said.

Napolitano and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi traveled with the Obamas.

Giffords' recovery is "going as anticipated," and doctors are seeing what they want to see so far, the hospital treating her said earlier in the day.

Peter Rhee, chief of emergency medicine at University Medical Center in Tucson, said "none of the downward events have occurred at this time" in her recovery.

Doctors have decreased the amount of sedation they are giving her, and she is "becoming more and more spontaneous all the time," Rhee added.

Also Wednesday, Giffords' congressional office released a statement thanking Americans for their support since the shooting.

"The outpouring of support from the people of Arizona and Americans across the country has been truly moving," the statement said. "We appreciate everyone's thoughts and prayers during this difficult time."

Giffords' office acknowledged the bipartisan response in the Congress to the tragedy. " ... Starting with Speaker Boehner and Leader Pelosi, staff and Members from both sides of the aisle have reached out in words and deeds to help our office in our time of need," the statement said.

Of the six patients the hospital is still treating from Saturday's shooting, Giffords is the only one in critical condition. Two others are in serious condition, the other three are in fair condition, Rhee said.

A 9-year-old girl and Arizona's chief federal judge, John Roll, were among those killed at a constituent meeting Giffords was holding at a Tucson supermarket.

Authorities say Giffords was the target of Saturday's shooting. Thirteen people suffered gunshot wounds, the Pima County Sheriff said in a statement Tuesday night. Some other people were injured trying to flee the scene, the sheriff said.

Tucson resident Jared Loughner, 22, has been charged in the attack.

Giffords' Chief of Staff Pia Carusone, meanwhile, said the Giffords family is "very strong, very supportive. You know, she's a young, healthy person who is not only physically strong, but mentally resilient and, you know,
they're rising to the occasion."

Carusone added, "They've got a long road ahead of them, not just the physical recovery, but the tragedy that this community is having to absorb is - it's monumental and it's going to be ... a difficult thing to get through."

Meanwhile, Arizona state lawmakers passed legislation Tuesday barring protesters at funerals from getting within 300 feet of services. Brewer, who visited the injured Tuesday, later signed the bill.

The action, according to Arizona House Republican spokesman Daniel Scarpinato, was in direct response to the controversial Westboro Baptist Church's announcement that it would picket the funeral of 9-year-old victim Christina Green on Thursday.

Shirley Phelps-Roper, a spokeswoman for Westboro, told CNN that the church has decided not to protest at the girl's funeral. She said her group made a deal with a radio host not to protest there in exchange for airtime. However, she said church members would protest at the funeral of U.S. District Judge John Roll and other victims on Friday.

The Steve Sanchez Radio Show on KXXT AM in Phoenix offered the group 30 minutes on his show on Saturday in exchange for not protesting at Green's funeral. The deal was established through an e-mail exchange, which was forwarded to CNN.

In one e-mail, a representative of the show informs Phelps-Roper that the group will have to avoid profanity and that the platform will "allow you to express your views and allow you as guest and Steve Sanchez as host to have a civil dialogue and discord." Phelps-Roper responded that the group had no problem with the rules.
- CNN's John Sutter contributed to this report.

soundoff (14 Responses)
  1. Edward

    Everyone–regardless of their political beliefs–should have been moved and touched by Pres. Obama's speech tonight. It completely transcended partisan politics. He called on all Americans to live up to the ideals of a democratic society that the nine year old girl who died believed so strongly in, even at her young age. That little girl was so excited about politics and government, and the idea that our democratic political system can serve as a vehicle for Americans to work together to solve the problems that this country faces. Pres. Obama admirably implored us to strive to make that ideal democratic society that the nine year old girl envisioned a reality, which, incidentally, is an ideal that many of us adults also used to believe in before we lost the little girl’s childlike idealism, and became consumed with cynicism about politics.

    January 13, 2011 at 12:24 am |
    • Jay in NC

      We have been told that Barry is the smartest guy in the room, has the best writers, has insight to pull this nation together. However any preacher could have whipped together a better speech to honor the lives lost. Many of us find his speeches divisive, and politically soaked. This speech was mediocre at best.

      Here are some facts about Barry's campaign speech. He mentioned Gabby 17 times, Christina Green only 5 times. The first mention was about 15 min into the 33 min speech. When he did try to honor someone it was in the context of having saved Gabby.

      Barry also did not name the two men that stopped the gunman. They were left out in the audience, no hand shake, no gratitude. Is this because they are registered Republicans? Certainly their valor warranted more than just a shout out. Here is all that Barry had to say "We are grateful to the men who tackled the gunman as he stopped to reload. (Applause.) Right over there. (Applause.)."

      Yet to fellow democrats, like Gabby's aid, Barry said "Our hearts are full of thanks for that good news, and our hearts are full of gratitude for those who saved others. We are grateful to Daniel Hernandez - (applause) - a volunteer in Gabby's office. (Applause.) And, Daniel, I'm sorry, you may deny it, but we've decided you are a hero because - (applause) - you ran through the chaos to minister to your boss, and tended to her wounds and helped keep her alive. (Applause.)."

      At the event there were chants, yelling and free t-shirts complete with a slogan. When was the last memorial you saw/attended that handed out door prizes? To top it off The First Date sat next to the Democrat-astronaut-senator's husband not the parent of the young dead girl. Barry chose to sit next to the event-speaker-senator's-aid not the men who risked their life saving everyone else. Barry will politicize any event. He does not bind he divides the country.

      Take the time to read Reagan's speech about the Challenger. Understand that this was put together the day of the disaster. It was short and to the point. He told us about his and The First Lady's pain, then extended this to our pain yet made it clear that as far as the loved ones "we cannot bear, as you do, the full impact of this tragedy". He went on to remind us of the events significance in history. I think the last line speaks for itself.... We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for their journey and waved goodbye and "slipped the surly bonds of earth" to "touch the face of God."

      Reagan may not have written the speech however, he did pick the writer, and his delivery was spot on. We understood that Reagan knew and felt the lost just as we did. On the other hand, Barry's speech was written by two of the supposed best writers of our time and delivered by the messiah of the Liberal world. Yet it fell flat. We did not 'feel his pain.' We did not learn any thing new, we were not raised up above the situation, we were left to deal with our grief not a a nation but alone.

      January 14, 2011 at 5:57 pm |
  2. Liz Carter in Georgia

    Jay, I disagree! What ever OBAMA had or could've said, it wouldn't have satisfied you! For you, had he stood up there and quoted 'Twinkle, Twinkle Little Stars, How I Wonder What You Are'! 'May GOD Bless America'! You'd have been just as critical and vendictive! You try to shout me down! You really need to check yourself; and your daily pursuit to continue spewing sarcastic, poisonous, divisive, disparaging remarks about the PRESIDENT of THE UNITED STATES! Whether you like it or not, he IS the president!

    January 14, 2011 at 11:06 pm |
    • Jay in NC

      Liz, if Barry had said 'Twinkle Little Star' then, believe me, I would have been much much more critical. Please be specific to what I said that you find to be disparaging remarks. I will post an apology if any of my comments are untrue. And yes, I agree, Barry is the President of The United States. That is why I hold him to such a high standard.

      January 15, 2011 at 12:47 pm |
  3. MS BOO, NC


    January 15, 2011 at 9:22 pm |
    • Jay in NC

      MS BOO, you say "I KNOW HOW WE TWIST THE TRUTH TO JUSTIFY OUR THINKING." Does that mean that you are twisting the truth now?

      January 17, 2011 at 8:36 pm |
  4. Liz Carter in Georgia

    @Jay in NC; you should apologize for your whole comment about PRESIDENT OBAMAS' speech in Tucson, because the whole thing was disparaging! That's par for you though. The speech was excellent; it WAS uplifting for the nation and all of the victims involved! Many of your own like-minded thinkers even said so! 'Any preacher could have whipped together a better speech'! It wasn't a eulogy! The man was only giving remarks at the memorial! How many have you attended? That's usually what they do at memorials!

    January 15, 2011 at 11:23 pm |
  5. Liz Carter in Georgia

    Jay, Many of whom finds his speeches 'divisive and politically soaked'? Usually PRESIDENTS/WIVES don't chose where they sit; they're told where to sit and who to sit with or near! Did Reagan choose to sit next to the victims or any of the heroes? Why do you complain about him speaking of GABBY; it's obvious he'd feel an extra hurt for the woman! THEY WORKED TOGETHER! WERE IN CLOSE CONTACT WITH ONE ANOTHER AT WORK! The little CHRISTINA touched his heart because he has daughters too! MALIA is the same age!

    January 15, 2011 at 11:47 pm |
    • Jay in NC

      You do know that there are 435 Representatives and 100 Senators, right. Not to mention 50 Governors and many major mayors. I doubt seriously that Barry as you say 'WERE IN CLOSE CONTACT WITH ONE ANOTHER AT WORK.'

      January 18, 2011 at 3:22 pm |
  6. Liz Carter in Georgia

    Jay, What did you expect to learn new? It was a memorial service; he didn't ask for the applause that he kept getting, that you're sooo jealous about! Everybody doesn't feel like you about him; some people do appreciate him and realize that he's working hard to raise the whole nation, liberals and conservatives! 'delivered by the messiah of the liberal world'; What was BUSH, satan of the conservative world? You continue to demean MICHELLE; FIRST DATE?!? She is the FIRST LADY, just like Nancy Reagan was.

    January 16, 2011 at 12:12 am |
  7. Liz Carter in Georgia

    Jay, If OBAMAS remarks 'fell flat', they only fell flat for people like you, who make it their daily mission and ambition to view and critique anything he says or does in the negative! You WANT to see it as 'FLAT' and 'mediocre at best'. The children at the university did the T-SHIRTS passed them out, not OBAMA! Oh yes, did you learn that GABBY opened her eyes that same day? That was something NEW, or did you care? I sure do wish you and your fans were around to hold BUSH & COMPANY to such a high standard!

    January 16, 2011 at 12:38 am |
  8. Jay in NC

    The university paid $60,000 for the t-shirts. The slogo was the same type style, font, color, and phrasing as Barry's Yes We Can messages. The words were from his 2008 fund raiser website. Cups and pencils were also printed. This was clearly a campaign contribution by the university all at tax payer and student expense. I am glad that an investigation is underway to find out who exactly approved this illegal contribution. Now watch the negative comments calling me a bigot and racist.

    January 17, 2011 at 8:50 pm |
  9. Liz Carter in Georgia

    Jay, you are more than a notion! You just won't quit with the vendictive rhetoric and petty accusations, will you? If anything, that was clearly a show of support and admiration for the PRESIDENT, by the intelligent, progressively independent thinking students at the UNIVERSITY of ARIZONA; who realize the weight that's been left on this mans' shoulders; as they also realize how hard you and people like you, are making it for him as he tries to fix AMERICAS' problems! They see the bogus, hatefilled vitriol!

    January 18, 2011 at 1:59 pm |
    • Jay in NC

      Liz, you are saying that the students at the University decided to spend $60,000 on shirts. Who gave them this authority? Most universities do not hand over the check book to students. I know you do not care for facts but please this time tell us where you got this information. Not what you feel but tell us the date and news story, school website any authoritative information that backs your claim.

      In addition I thought the memorial was suppose to be for the victims and their families not Barry. Don't you realize that you and I are saying the exact same thing, the shirts were made to honor Barry, not the victims.

      January 18, 2011 at 3:17 pm |