WASHINGTON -- Stunned members of Maryland's congressional delegation set aside past differences with President Bush over his handling of the Gulf crisis last night and called for unity and support of U.S. troops in the Middle East now that war has begun.
Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, D-Md., who had criticized President Bush for not giving economic sanctions against Iraq enough time to work, was quick to issue a statement shortly after the U.S. attack on Iraq.
"My thoughts and prayers are with the men and women on the front lines. Like so many people, I had hoped that it would not come to this," said Senator Mikulski, who was one of six members of the Maryland delegation to vote against a congressional resolution authorizing the president's use of force free Kuwait.
"Now that our troops have been called to arms by the president, we must do everything we can to ensure that no American is in battle any longer than is absolutely necessary," she said in a prepared statement. "I call upon all Americans to show support in any way they can and to pray for a speedy resolution."
"Clearly the president is absolutely correct," said Representativ Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md.-5th, who heard about the attack through a television report when he returned to his Prince George's County home. "Saddam Hussein has refused to cooperate in any manner."
Mr. Hoyer, head of the Democratic Caucus, said House Speaker Thomas S. Foley, D-Wash., was notified of the impending attack by President Bush shortly before 7 p.m. Mr. Hoyer said the House leaders would meet tomorrow morning.
"The swift force is proper to end this thing as soon as possible," said Representative Wayne T. Gilchrest, R-Md.-1st, the newest member of the delegation, and a Vietnam War veteran. "We had no alternative."
Representative Constance A. Morella, R-Md.-8th, the sole Republican in the delegation to vote against the use of force in the Persian Gulf, was in her car driving home from Capitol Hill last night when her office called with the news on her car phone.
" 'You won't believe it. It's begun,' " she said a staffer told her.
"I felt terribly saddened," Ms. Morella said. "The shock . . . Even though we had a feeling it might be inevitable, that it might be imminent, it is still in the realm of the unbelievable."
"It is no longer Operation Desert Shield, but Desert Storm, and we hope the storm will be over very quickly," she said. "It is a time for prayer on the part of all Americans -- for our country, for our president and our troops who over there. We really need a heavy infusion of prayer.
"May the freeing of Kuwait --which is the goal -- be swift," she said. "This is a time for all of us to pull together, which is the major strength of our country."
Representative Benjamin L. Cardin, D-Md.-3rd, another member of the delegation who voted against the resolution, said, "Right now my thoughts are with the men and women serving in the Middle East. My prayers are with them, that we have a brief and successful military engagement, so that we can accomplish our objectives with minimum casualties and bring our troops home as quickly as possible."
Asked how he felt when he learned of the U.S air strikes, Mr. Cardin said: "As a realist, I knew that this was coming, but I still didn't believe it."