Former Virginia Republican Senator John Warner dies at 94

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Former U.S. Senator John Warner of Virginia, a prominent voice on military policy who at times clashed with fellow Republicans during three decades in office, has died of heart failure. He was 94.

Warner died late on Tuesday, with his wife and daughter at his side, his chief of staff Susan Magill said in an email to family and friends, according to a Politico report on Wednesday. The Washington Post said he died in Alexandria, Virginia.

"The country has lost a great patriot. Senator John Warner was a hero in the military, a respected leader in the Senate and an inspiration to all with his joy for life," House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the top Democrat in Congress, said in a statement.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a Democrat, ordered flags on the Senate side of the U.S. Capitol lowered to half-staff to honor Warner, a spokesman said.

Warner served in the U.S. Senate for five terms from 1979 to 2009.

A former chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Warner openly criticized President George W. Bush's handling of the Iraq War and called on him in 2007 to begin withdrawing American troops from Iraq.

The decision put Warner at the center of a growing debate in Congress over the conflict. Warner spent months trying to develop an approach to U.S. policy in Iraq that was supported by Republicans and Democrats.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said his fellow Republican had been "one of this body's foremost voices on national defense."

"As a former secretary of the Navy, he brought Pentagon clout and technical chops that would help the Senate play a hugely consequential role in defense policy," McConnell told the Senate. "He was also a truly old-school Virginia gentleman." During his time in office, Warner clashed with fellow Republican senators on domestic issues, voting in some cases for government funding of abortions and supporting some gun control measures. In 1994, he refused to support Oliver North, the conservative Republican candidate in Virginia for U.S. Senate.

Democratic Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia said he often turned for advice to Warner, whom he called a "public servant who stood on principle, made us proud, and exemplified the best of what politics can be."

"He was a gentleman who maintained civility in his politics in an era of rising intolerance," U.S. Representative Gerry Connolly, another fellow Virginian, said on Twitter.

Warner, who enlisted in the Navy during World War II at the age of 17, also served in the Marine Corps in Korea. He was secretary of the Navy from 1972-74 in President Richard Nixon’s administration.

He was the sixth husband of actress Elizabeth Taylor.

(Reporting by Doina Chiacu and David Morgan in Washington; Additional reporting by Peter Szekely in New York; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Bill Berkrot)

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