“It set a precedent for draconian budget cuts when all else failed,” Ross K. Baker, a Rutgers University political science professor and an authority on congressional politics, said in an interview.
Throughout his Senate career, the combative Mr. Rudman had a knack for seeing through the veil of Washington rhetoric.
When Reagan’s defense secretary, Caspar W. Weinberger, said in a 1983 Senate hearing that the United States should plan for a “protracted” nuclear war, Mr. Rudman called the idea “asinine.”
“Anybody who talks about protracted nuclear war has never heard a shot fired in anger,” said Mr. Rudman, who spent 15 months in combat as a company commander during the Korean War and was awarded the Bronze Star Medal.
A lone wolf who was wary of the capital’s rituals, Mr. Rudman refused to wear a tuxedo under any circumstances and repeatedly turned down invitations to the White House.
“Quite frankly this is not a town that cares for Warren Rudman as a person, or for anything I value,” he told The Washington Post in 1986. “If the word ‘senator’ disappeared from in front of my name, my invitations would go from 200 a week to two a year.”
Mr. Rudman gained his greatest public renown during the televised hearings in 1987 on the Iran-contra matter. He was vice chairman of a joint House-Senate committee investigating the Reagan administration’s secret deals to sell arms to Iran in exchange for U.S. hostages. Money from the arms sales was then diverted to rebels, known as the contras, fighting the Marxist Sandinista regime in Nicaragua.
Turning against his own party, Mr. Rudman called on Reagan to apologize to the American people for what he called “an act of folly.”
“He was one of a vanishing breed of Northeastern moderate Republicans, people who almost gleefully defy orthodoxy when a principle is involved,” Baker said.
During the hearings, Mr. Rudman reprimanded North, a Marine Corps lieutenant colonel who oversaw the operation from the White House. Mr. Rudman considered North a renegade leading a rogue foreign policy operation that ultimately sent more than $30 million to the contras.
North was convicted on three counts, but the convictions were overturned. When it was revealed during the hearings that North had cashed travelers checks intended for the contras and had purchased, among other things, snow tires, Mr. Rudman sarcastically asked contra leader Adolfo Calero, “When was the last time it snowed in Nicaragua?”