Attack shocks Md. members of Congress WAR IN THE GULF

January 18, 1991|By Tom Bowman | Tom Bowman,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- Members of the Maryland congressional delegation reacted with shock to the news of an Iraqi missile attack on Israel.

"It's something you hoped and prayed wouldn't happen," said Representative Benjamin L. Cardin, D-Md.-3rd, who is Jewish and represents most of the predominantly Jewish communities of the Baltimore area. Mr. Cardin said he and his family have numerous friends in Israel, including Tel Aviv, where several missiles fell. He said he would likely try to reach them today. "It sort of hits you hard. It's hard to describe the feeling," he said.

"Israel will retaliate," he said, adding that he thought it should.

"Sick," said Representative Beverly B. Byron, D-Md.-6th, when she heard the news that as many as eight weapons fell on Israel. The member of the Armed Services Committee predicted Israeli retaliation.

"It just shows you the madness of Saddam Hussein," said Representative Tom McMillen, D-Md.-4th. "He's trying to turn this into an all-out carnage."

All three members said they hoped the international alliance could survive an Israeli entrance into the Persian Gulf war, a move that could put strains on the Arab members.

"I would hope that cooler heads will prevail," said Mrs. Byron. And Mr. McMillen said that since Arab troops already have entered the conflict, he predicted that the alliance would hold.

"It will be stressed, but I think it will stay intact," Mr. Cardin said.

Just before the missiles struck, the same three Maryland members came away from a congressional briefing by Defense Secretary Dick Cheney, feeling hopeful about the situation. Mr. Cardin called it "a high."

But that all changed when news reports announced the raids. And those in congressional offices watched in stunned silence as journalists in gas masks gave live reports from Israel.

Up until the missile attack, it was a relatively calm day in Washington.

The phones were strangely quiet -- unlike the previous week when constituents jammed the lines, many urging members not to vote for military action.

Yesterday, the handful of constituents who did call generally offered support for military action or concern for loved ones in the Persian Gulf.

"It's been light here," said Beau Wright, an aide to Mrs. Byron, when asked about constituent calls. "It was eerie, I thought."

"Right now it's surprisingly quiet. I think most people are just shocked," said Dawana Merritt, press spokesman for Mr. Cardin. "I think a lot of people are just watching TV."

Mr. Cardin's office received about 50 calls by midday yesterday, mostly from people concerned about family and friends serving with the American forces. "Others are calling saying we support this, a few are saying it shouldn't have happened," said the aide.

"It's been real interesting today, we haven't had many calls," said David Brown, press secretary to Representative Kweisi Mfume, D-Md.-7th, who counted 20 calls to both the Washington and Baltimore offices. "People have been calling about concerns for sons and daughters in the Persian Gulf," he said.

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