She came, she smiled and she was greeted by tearful colleagues. But the glow of Gabrielle Giffords' unexpected appearance on Capitol Hill on Monday to vote for the debt-ceiling deal was quickly tempered by her frustration with the mess Congress had created over tax-and-spend policies in her absence.
"I have closely followed the debate over our debt ceiling and have been deeply disappointed at what's going on in Washington," Ms Giffords, the victim of a shooting rampage in January, said in a statement.
"I had to be here for this vote. I could not take the chance that my absence could crash our economy." Thus, Ms Giffords, who had yesterday returned to Houston, Texas, to continue with her rehabilitation, made clear that in other circumstances she might not have chosen the vote on Monday night as the moment to make her return. Rather, she did it because she could not take the risk that the vote would go the wrong way.
It was an odd juxtaposition. There were members of the House voting, many with deep reluctance, for a deal to bring an end to one of the most grubby and pernicious periods of wrangling in the institution's history when suddenly joy and celebration were demanded by Ms Giffords' entrance to the chamber.
Still, for many the effect was the same. With the bill passed seconds earlier, members stood on chairs and wiped away tears as she thanked all around her for their support. Before releasing her statement, Ms Giffords – who has not fully returned to work as the representative of her Tucson constituency – sent this tweet: "The Capitol looks beautiful and I am honoured to be at work tonight."