In some ways, as the clock edged toward midnight, it was business as usual at the White House. Tracey Taylor, the Daily Point of Light Coordinator, issued her 353rd consecutive news release, this one celebrating the work of the Santa Ana, Calif., Century High School Volunteer Youth group -- known as SAVVY.

Shirley Green, the longtime aide to President Bush who handles correspondence, looked up from the flood of incoming calls and letters -- the heaviest of Bush's two years in office -- to remark that the president "is doing what he always does, dropping notes to people." As the deadline for war drew near, she said, "he knows that life goes on."

Chief of Staff John H. Sununu held a meeting with speech writers, to go over a draft of the State of the Union address, scheduled to be delivered in two weeks.

But an aide observed Sununu and national security adviser Brent Scowcroft "wandering back and forth between their offices" more often than usual. The Persian Gulf, Sununu remarked to someone, "does not replace everything else, but it's laid over everything else."

For members of the Congress that voted last week to authorize military action in the gulf and officials of the administration that may carry it out, the burden of the midnight deadline for Iraqi forces to withdraw from Kuwait weighed heavily yesterday. Wherever they were, of whatever party, they expressed a pervasive anxiety over what the next hours would bring.

House Minority Leader Robert H. Michel (R-Ill.) sat at his desk in the Capitol, trying to complete the job of assigning newly elected Republicans to committees. "I tried to focus, but I haven't been able to think clearly. This other thing keeps intruding."

Michel had backed Bush in Saturday's dramatic congressional vote to authorize the use of force. "I have no regrets about where I stand," he said, "but there are so many imponderables."

Sen. Mark O. Hatfield (R-Ore.), who opposed any use of force, now or later, said, "My mind is rambling. I'm very jumpy. I'm restless. I walk around a lot. I find myself uttering those silent prayers during the day that I normally would not be giving. I hear from people by phone and by letter, pleading with me, 'Why didn't you do something more?' . . . My mind is deeply troubled. I've been replaying battle scenes from World War II -- the Iwo Jima landing, the day I walked through Hiroshima a month after the bombing."

However oppressive the sense of crisis, congressional leaders and administration officials had other business that would not wait.

Intelligence briefings on the violent repression of nationalist forces in Lithuania by Soviet troops drew Senate Majority Leader George J. Mitchell (D-Maine) and many others at least momentarily away from their focus on the gulf.

For all the frenetic activity -- Vice President Quayle was in five separate meetings with the president before noon -- there was, for many, a sense of marking time. House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Dante B. Fascell (D-Fla.) remarked on the "eerie quiet" in the Capitol after the high drama of Saturday's voting. Senate Minority Leader Robert J. Dole (R-Ill.), listening to desultory floor debate, was struck by "the restrained mood. There were no criticisms being delivered. There's no excitement. Just a routine day -- but an extraordinary day."

Some legislators felt the need to be at home. Sen. David L. Boren (D-Okla.), chairman of the Senate intelligence committee, said, "At a time like this, I wanted to be with the people back home, with my friends and family and the people I grew up with."

But distance from Washington provided little insulation. The day began for Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) at 6:20 a.m., when the clock radio at his farm brought news that the latest diplomatic efforts had collapsed. Even before he set out for a round of meetings across the state, he said, "I was very depressed."

For Grassley, for House Speaker Thomas S. Foley (D-Wash.) and for Rep. Lee H. Hamilton (D-Ind.), all of whom had led the opposition to the congressional resolution sought by Bush, there was no escape in turning to constituent problems. Hamilton talked with Hoosiers concerned about a salmonella outbreak at several chicken farms. "It's a very serious matter," he said, "but it's hard to focus on it when you have something like this pending."

Foley's meeting with Washington state highway officials served only to remind him that beyond "the risk of life" in the Persian Gulf hostilities, there is also a financial reckoning to be made. He felt "a sense of resignation," he said, that the needs of education, transportation and health may have to be postponed "into the next century."

Even as the deadline for hostilities neared, Mitchell was trying to look ahead to the next steps in the gulf, assembling a Democratic task force on the region. "Someone must be planning for what happens after military action is concluded," he said.

Some, of course, were also reckoning the political consequences at home. Rep. Stephen J. Solarz (D-N.Y.), who gained national prominence as the leading Democratic backer of the president's policy, said Monday was "unlike anything in my 23 years of public life. People were coming up to me on the streets, saying, 'We're really proud of you.' " But, he acknowledged, "my mail and phone calls are running overwhelmingly against my position."

To Dole, yesterday was distinguished from all others in his career by what he called "the puzzling deadline."

"Is it our deadline or his {Saddam Hussein's} deadline or anybody's deadline?" he asked. "When we go to bed tonight, we know that something might be very different in our lives, but we really can't say what for sure. I can't recall anything like this.

"I just hope we did the right thing," Dole said. "You try to think, is there anything else you could have done."

Across the Capitol, Michel said, "You have to be concerned about every one of those families expressing concern about their loved ones. You're part of causing that anguish. . . . Now the die is cast, and it can't be retrieved."