Some said it is a virtual declaration of war. Others insisted it is the last chance for peace. But Congress authorized President Bush Saturday to use all force necessary to remove Iraq from Kuwait anytime after 12:01 a.m. Tuesday.
"Peace is everyone's goal. Peace is in everyone's prayers. But it is for Iraq to decide," President Bush said after the vote. He added that Saddam Hussein is now the only one who can stop war.The key votes Saturday passed 52-47 in the Senate and 250-183 in the House - where the more than 20 hours of floor debate was the longest in modern House history for a single issue.
Adding to an already somber mood in the Capitol was the rain that began as voting started, and weeping by protesters and families of soldiers in the halls after the vote.
The vote margin was far from the "solid front" President Bush sought to pressure Saddam. Sen. Paul Simon, D-Ill., said it was the tightest vote to authorize force since the War of 1812.
All members from Utah except Rep. Wayne Owens, D-Utah, voted to support the president and the use of force after Jan. 15.
All described it as the toughest vote of their careers - and for newly elected Rep. Bill Orton, it was his first major vote. "It was really the most difficult vote I can imagine. You have to search your soul. . . . It would almost be easier to quit and go home," Orton said.
When asked if he was glad to be in Congress, he said seriously, "Not today."
After the vote, most members who had opposed the president said it is now time to rally around him. Owens, for example, said, "It is basically a time to close ranks with the president and pray that he has wisdom and good judgment and will be blessed, in essence, to make the right decision."
At the White House, a solemn Bush said: "This action by the Congress unmistakably demonstrates the United States' commitment to the international demand for a complete and unconditional withdrawal of Iraq from Kuwait. This clear expression of the Congress represents the last best chance for peace."
He added that war might not come exactly at midnight Tuesday but said he is thinking to act "sooner rather than later" if Iraq does not begin to comply by the deadline. Bush said if Iraq began a "massive, rapid" withdrawal, it would make a difference.
Owens was among many Bush critics who wished to give economic sanctions more time to work. "The opportunity to work for anything honorable short of war should have passed," he said.
But like Bush, other Utah members of Congress said approval to use force should show Saddam that America is serious - and has the best possibility to convince him to withdraw and avoid war.Rep. Jim Hansen, R-Utah, said, "If we've got a chance to avert war, it's now. I think that Saddam Hussein will look and see that the United States is together . . . . I would hope he realizes the smart thing to do is get out of Kuwait."
Orton said, "It shows Saddam we are in fact committed and the president has the authority to act. I think it is fairly certain that if we voted against the president, we would be going to war (by not showing Saddam we are serious and because Bush might act without congressional approval anyway).
"The chances, if any, are that this will convince him to pull out and seek a peaceful resolution. Any chance at all is better than virtually none."
Sen. Jake Garn, R-Utah, said, "I personally think war is less likely." He only wished that Congress had passed such a resolution a month ago to pressure Saddam sooner and harder.
"The power for peace is now in Saddam Hussein's hands. He is the one person on this earth (who can avoid war). I hope and pray he is sensible enough to get out."
As an example of how the debate hit people personally, Garn and Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, exploded at a peace protester who was trying to shout them down during hallway press interviews.
When the heckler said they were sending people to die, Garn turned and told him that people like him cost millions of lives in World War II by not standing up to Hitler in the 1930s.
Hatch yelled at the man that he didn't know how tough the vote was.
After nine policemen appeared to separate the senators from vocal protesters, Hatch said, "Talk about saving lives? I resent that these people put in our faces that we are risking lives. Our position is that you save lives."
He added, "Someone like that doesn't think and doesn't realize that this is a tough vote . . .. I lost a brother in the Second World War . . . I lost a brother-in-law in the Vietnam War. I had one brother-in-law completely shot up in Korea. You don't think I weigh these things?
"I don't want to send anybody to war. I want to prevent war. But the only way to do it is to stand up and stop this guy (Saddam)," Hatch said.
"This man has the capacity now to use biological agents to kill millions . . . . We simply can't let that happen . . . If we do, we would be just as guilty as those people that let things get out of hand before the Second World War. We want peace. The only way to get peace is to show strength," Hatch said.
When asked if he wanted Saddam killed, Hatch said, "He's got to be removed. That's one of the things that hopefully will happen here. Because he's not going to change."
Hansen agreed he is dangerous as long as he remains in power. "As a member of the House Armed Services Committee, I can tell you he has the kind of weapons of war that would be absolutely devastating. You can pay now or you can pay later."
Congress cast five votes about going to war Saturday - three in the House and two in the Senate.
One vote in the House expressed its view that the president must come to Congress to gain permission for offensive military actions. It passed 302-131 in the House but wasn't voted on in the Senate. Orton and Owens supported it. Hansen voted against it.
Resolutions to give economic sanctions more time to work and to not support war now failed 53-46 in the Senate and 250-183 in the House.
And the resolutions to support the president finally prevailed 52-47 in the Senate and 250-183 in the House.
In the Senate, all but two Republicans, Sens. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, and Mark Hatfield, R-Ore., voted for the resolution along with 10 Democrats. In the House, 164 Republicans and 86 Democrats voted for the resolution.
In their final unsuccessful appeals, House Speaker Thomas Foley and Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell appealed for time to let sanctions and diplomacy work and not give Bush, in the words of Mitchell, a "blank check" to wage a war in the Persian Gulf at some undetermined time.
Foley warned against "an early and precipitous war" and urged the House to "reserve the right to give the final approval to the president to use the maximum force in our command, the terrible, terrible force that this country has the power to inflict."
Some questioned whether the resolutions that passed can take the place of a formal declaration of war.
Garn echoed the view of supporters of the president, saying, "The president made a request. The Congress has debated for three days. And it passed by majority vote, as we make all our decisions. The constitutional process has been fulfilled."
Despite hope for peace, Utah's members were divided about whether it will actually be achieved.
"You've got to look into the mind of a ruthless dictator and gambler to make that conclusion and I don't know that I can," Orton said. "I just pray that we're right, that we've done the right thing. It's a sad day when we contemplate sending this nation into war. And I hope that we're right."
When Garn was asked how long he thought a war may last, he said, "That is an unanswerable question. There is no way you can accurately answer how long a war will last. It's not possible. I would hope President Bush means exactly what he says and that it will be as quick as possible."
But Owens expressed what he called "an optimistic gut feeling." He said, "My guess is at this point, and I've been optimistic all along, is that before Monday night at midnight, (Saddam) will announce a withdrawal based on the world's acceptance for his call for a Palestinian and Israeli international conference." Such acceptance has not yet occurred.