CONCORD, N.H. — Colleagues knew former Sen. Warren B. Rudman for his abrupt manner, but they trusted his expertise. On one matter in particular, though, he wished people would have listened to him: that the U.S. was vulnerable to a major terrorist attack.
Rudman left the Senate in the early 1990s but later led a commission that predicted the danger of terrorism on American soil just months before the attacks of Sept. 11 and called for the creation of a Department of Homeland Security.
“No one seemed to take it seriously, and no one in the media seemed to care,” Rudman said in 2007. “The report went into a dustbin in the White House.”
Rudman, who also co-authored a groundbreaking budget balancing law and championed ethics, died just before midnight Monday at a Washington, D.C., hospital of complications from lymphoma, said Bob Stevenson, a longtime friend and spokesman.
Rep. Charlie Bass of New Hampshire didn’t serve with him, but looked up to Rudman.
“He’d say, ‘Vote the tough way,’ and he’d say, ‘Don’t let people push you around,'” Bass recalled. “‘If you know what’s right, vote the way that’s right, and if you’re forceful and persuasive and sure of yourself, people will support you even if they don’t agree with you.'”
President Barack Obama pointed to Rudman’s early advocacy for fiscal responsibility in mourning the passing of “one of our country’s great public servants.”
“And as we work together to address the fiscal challenges of our time, leaders on both sides of the aisle would be well-served to follow Warren’s example of common-sense bipartisanship,” Obama said in a statement Tuesday.
Stevenson acknowledged Rudman could be abrupt, but said his peers respected him because he did his homework and was true to his word.
“He was a bulldog in the Senate. He set the standard for independence,” he said.
The feisty New Hampshire Republican went to the Senate in 1981 with a reputation as a tough prosecutor, and was called on by Senate leaders and presidents of both parties to tackle tough assignments.
He is perhaps best known from his Senate years as co-sponsor of the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings budget-cutting law. He left the Senate in 1993, saying the law never reached its potential because Congress and presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush played politics instead of insisting on spending cuts.
“People are willing to risk their lives for their country in times of war,” he said at the time. “They ought to be able to risk an election in a time of economic trouble.”
Rudman “always had the national good in mind,” said former U.S. Sen. Ernest “Fritz” Hollings.
“He wasn’t extreme one way or the other, except for the good of the country,” said Hollings from his South Carolina office. “He was balanced. That’s what we need.”
In 2001, before the 9/11 attacks, he co-authored a report on national security with former Sen. Gary Hart of Colorado that said a major terrorist attack on American soil was likely within 25 years.
It was revived after the Sept. 11 attacks, and one suggestion, forming Homeland Security, was adopted. Six years later, Rudman said the sprawling department wasn’t functioning well and the country would be hit again.
“It is not a question, I’m sorry to tell you, of ‘if.’ It’s a question of ‘when,'” Rudman said.
A former New Hampshire attorney general, Rudman was named chairman of the Senate Ethics Committee in 1985, a sensitive job that many colleagues avoided.
Retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice David Souter says Rudman was like a brother to him.
Souter also said Tuesday that he was incomparably lucky to have a friend like Rudman. He said Rudman stood for what the founders of the American republic staked its future on.
Rudman wrote in a book about Souter, his longtime friend and former deputy in the New Hampshire attorney general’s office, that the private Souter appeared ready to walk away from his nomination for the Supreme Court because he was being portrayed as odd because he was 50, single and lived in a little farmhouse crammed with books.
Rudman said he talked to him for five hours and Souter decided to push on.
Throughout his Senate career, Rudman was cited for his work on the Defense Appropriations subcommittee, where he supported a strong national defense but opposed expensive, high-tech weaponry.
The Gramm-Rudman-Hollings Act was approved in 1985. It was designed to end federal deficits by 1991 and required automatic spending cuts if annual deficit targets were missed.
Congress rolled back the timetable each year, and the 1991 budget that was supposed to be balanced carried the second-highest deficit in history. In 1995, 10 years after the law went on the books, Rudman lamented what could have been.
“Had we stuck to that plan, had the Congress not failed to follow it through — in fact, had presidents not failed to follow through — we would not be where we are today,” Rudman said.
He said balancing the budget would require making wealthy retirees pay more of their medical costs, slowing the growth of discretionary spending, cutting waste in some agencies and eliminating unnecessary agencies.
He continued the fight after leaving the Senate. He and former Democratic Sen. Paul Tsongas of Massachusetts founded the Concord Coalition, which campaigns for a balanced budget.
During the biggest scandal of the Reagan years, Rudman, an outspoken member of the Senate’s Iran-Contra Committee, said key administration officials had showed “pervasive dishonesty” and disdain for the law by selling weapons to Nicaraguan rebels.
During the 1987 hearings, he lectured Marine Lt. Col. Oliver L. North, the operation’s key figure, about helping to hide the sale from Congress for fear it would have been rejected.
“The American people have the constitutional right to be wrong,” he told North. “And what Ronald Reagan thinks or Oliver North thinks or what I think or what anybody else thinks makes not a whit.”
Rudman also served on the committee that investigated the “Keating Five,” senators with ties to the savings and loan debacle in 1991. The committee found California Democrat Alan Cranston had improperly aided former savings and loan executive Charles Keating Jr. When Cranston said he did only what others did, Rudman called the defense “arrogant, unrepentant and a smear on this institution.”
He was born May 18, 1930, in Boston, graduated from Syracuse University in 1952 and got his law degree from Boston College in 1960.
In six years as state attorney general, beginning in 1970, Rudman established consumer protection and environmental divisions. As a private citizen after leaving office, he founded and led the Citizens Alliance Against Casinos in 1977, to keep casino gambling out of New Hampshire.
With no experience in elective politics, Rudman arrived in the Senate by winning an 11-candidate primary in 1980, then defeating Democratic incumbent John Durkin.
After Rudman left the Senate in 1993, President Bill Clinton appointed him vice chairman of the influential President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board.
He also led or was a member of investigative teams or federal commissions that looked into:
— An $11 billion accounting failure scandal at Fannie Mae, the mortgage company.
— Allegations that major dealers on the Nasdaq stock market colluded to fix prices.
— Violence between Israel and Palestinians.
— Ailments affecting veterans of the first Gulf War. The panel drew criticism from veterans’ groups by concluding that stress was the most likely cause of some illnesses suffered by thousands of veterans, not exposure to chemical warfare or smoke and dust from depleted uranium ammunition.
Memorial services are planned in New Hampshire and Washington, though arrangements are incomplete, Stevenson said. The Washington service will be Nov. 29 with a location yet to be determined.
Former Associated Press writer David Tirrell-Wysocki and AP writer Kathy McCormack contributed to this report.