WASHINGTON -- Maryland members of the House split evenly yesterday on the question of whether to use military force to drive Saddam Hussein from Kuwait, with some saying that only the threat of war can succeed and others urging patience to allow economic sanctions and diplomacy to work.
"We are empowering the president to use force if and when he deems it necessary and if diplomatic efforts fail," said Representative Tom McMillen, D-4th, who backed the measure authorizing the president to use force, as did Wayne T. Gilchrest, R-1st, Helen Delich Bentley, R-2nd, and Beverly B. Byron, D-6th. "There is no evidence indicating that sanctions will succeed in achieving that goal," Mr. McMillen said.
Both Maryland senators, Paul S. Sarbanes and Barbara A. Mikulski -- both Democrats -- backed the policy of sanctions over military force that failed to pass the Senate.
"War must be our last choice," said Ms. Mikulski. "Sanctions are not a wimp-out, a cop-out or an easy way out."
An aide to Ms. Mikulski said yesterday that most of the calls to her office were opposed to congressional authorization of the use of force.
But Mr. Gilchrest, Maryland's newest member of Congress and a Vietnam veteran, said the president had "acted wisely in his methodic, step-by-step efforts in dealing with this enormous problem."
"I stand before you as a veteran who remembers vividly his experience in Vietnam," said the freshman representative, a former Marine sergeant who was wounded in that war.
Mr. Gilchrest cautioned the president to use force "as the absolute last resort" and urged him to continue economic sanctions past the Jan. 15 deadline imposed by the U.N. Security Council.
Mrs. Bentley said she viewed the resolution to use force as the best hope for peace, although she added, "It's with a heavy heart that I do this."
But other members of the delegation argued that sanctions were working and appealed for the president to stand by them and to seek a diplomatic resolution.
"Sanctions are weakening Iraq. . . . War must only be waged as a last resort," said Representative Steny H. Hoyer, D-5th, who backed the failed measure that would have relied on economic sanctions and diplomacy.
He was joined by Representatives Benjamin L. Cardin, D-3rd, Kweisi Mfume, D-7th, and Constance A. Morella, R-8th. The House rejected the measure, 250-183.
The entire delegation, however, supported a resolution finding that the Constitution vests in Congress all power to declare war. The House passed the measure 302-131.