The peak of his power in the Senate began in 1999, when he became chairman of the Armed Services Committee. Though his chairmanship was interrupted briefly when Democrats took back control, he evolved into a Republican force on military issues, his credibility enhanced by his reputation for solid contacts in the Pentagon, his previous work there and his own service in both the Navy and Marines.
Mr. Warner was ahead of others on the terrorism issue and created a subcommittee to focus on the threat. He was among Republicans who expressed reservations about the Iraq war, and he convened hearings on the abuse at the Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad when many of his fellow Republicans were hoping that the issue would disappear.
Mr. Warner also was skeptical about President George W. Bush’s 2007 troop buildup in Iraq. But he never broke with the administration to back a fixed deadline for troop withdrawals. That position frustrated Democrats, who had hoped that Mr. Warner would lend his influence to their opposition to the war, and they accused him of not following through on strong talk against the conflict.
Joining with Senator John McCain, who had been a prisoner of war in Vietnam, Mr. Warner thwarted Bush administration efforts to reinterpret the Geneva Convention on the treatment of prisoners in wartime, an approach that the senators said would open captured American military personnel to abuse.
Mr. Warner was not averse to stepping into difficult political situations in the Senate. In 2002, he was among the first to come out against Senator Trent Lott, Republican of Mississippi, after Mr. Lott had made a racially charged comment; Mr. Warner’s stand contributed to Mr. Lott’s decision to step aside as majority leader. He was also a leading member of the so-called Gang of 14, a bipartisan group of senators who struck an independent agreement on judicial nominations in 2005 and averted a fight over the future of the Senate filibuster.
A debonair Virginian, Mr. Warner was sometimes called the senator from central casting; his ramrod military posture, distinguished gray hair and occasionally overblown speaking style fit the Hollywood model.
John William Warner III was born on Feb. 18, 1927, in Washington to John Jr. and Martha (Budd) Warner and attended schools in Washington and Virginia. He left high school at age 17 to join the Navy and serve in the final months of World War II. He graduated from Washington and Lee University in 1949 and enrolled at the University of Virginia Law School before leaving to join the Marines during the Korean War. He returned to law school to obtain his degree in 1953.