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Tucson tragedy woven through crowd, speech

During the State of the Union in Washington,

During the State of the Union in Washington, a seat is left empty for U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was seriously injured in the recent shooting in Tucson, Ariz. (Jan. 25, 2011) Photo Credit: Getty Images

WASHINGTON - As the House chamber's bright lights warmed up yesterday for the annual rite of Washington officialdom, the trauma surgeon and the congressional intern who saved the life of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords 17 days earlier were getting ready to join the first lady in the gallery.

Down below, a single seat in a sea of brown leather chairs remained empty, a somber tribute to the recovering Arizona Democrat.

And across Capitol Hill, partisan warriors laid down their swords and summoned their dates for the night. Democrats were off to the big show with Republicans, and Republicans with Democrats.

The Jan. 8 assassination attempt on Giffords at a constituent meet-and-greet in Tucson ushered in promises of a new era of civility in American politics.

President Barack Obama's State of the Union address last evening offered the first test of whether the nation's political leaders would change the harsh political discourse.

By doing away with a century-old tradition of sitting with their own party, lawmakers signaled that they could be more civil.

Two of Arizona's representatives, Jeff Flake, a Republican, and Raul Grijalva, a Democrat, saved an empty seat for their absent colleague.

Peter Rhee, the trauma surgeon who treated Giffords, joined first lady Michelle Obama as did the parents of Christina Taylor Green, the 9-year-old who was killed in the shooting.

Daniel Hernandez, the University of Arizona junior who used his first-aid training to help keep Giffords alive, also joined the first lady.

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