Representative Gabrielle Giffords returned to the House floor on Monday for the first time since she was shot in the head in January, receiving a thunderous ovation from Democrats and Republicans alike.

Giffords, a Democrat who has not been to Washington since the shooting at a political event in her home state of Arizona, returned to vote in favor of a bill to raise the debt ceiling and avoid default.

The congresswoman, who has been undergoing intense rehabilitation and has kept out of the public eye, caught the chamber by surprise.

With two minutes to go in the 15-minute vote, Giffords walked in and hugged House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi.

The chamber, which has been the site of acrimonious debate and bitter partisan fighting for weeks, erupted in applause as Giffords entered then voted "yes" to the bill.

Giffords, with short dark hair that is growing out after multiple head surgeries, was mobbed by people from both parties who wanted to shake her hand and offer a hug.

After the vote, Pelosi acknowledged Giffords on the House floor and called her the "personification of courage."

A radiant Giffords blew kisses and waved to Pelosi and the crowd as she stood on her own on the floor. She greeted Vice President Biden, who was in the chamber for the vote.

Though she talked energetically with colleagues and waved constantly to others, Giffords moved gingerly and with caution. Her aides kept a close watch on her, offering a stabilizing hand to sit or support her.

The first sign that Giffords was to return was a Tweet from her office: "Gabrielle has returned to Washington to support a bipartisan bill to prevent economic crisis. Turn on C-SPAN now:"

A few minutes later, after she cast her vote, Giffords offered up her own tweet: "The #Capitol looks beautiful and I am honored to be at work tonight."