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Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Burlington, came under fire for calling Republican state Senators who made a “backroom deal” with Gov. Scott Walker “terrorists.”

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Burlington, came under fire for calling Republican state Senators who made a “backroom deal” with Gov. Scott Walker “terrorists.”

Assembly speaker apologizes for calling fellow Republicans ‘terrorists’

After receiving intense backlash for referring to three GOP state Senators as “terrorists,” the top-ranking Republican in the state Assembly issued an apology Monday.

“I now regret using the word terrorist because it goes against the guidelines I’ve set for our chamber, and myself,” Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Burlington, said in a statement. “For that, I apologize.”

Vos came under fire almost immediately for the comments, which he made in an interview that aired on WISN-TV Sunday. In the interview, Vos expressed his frustration with three conservative senators — Chris Kapenga, R-Delafield, Steve Nass, R-Whitewater, and Duey Stroebel, R-Saukville — for striking a last-minute private deal with Gov. Scott Walker to ensure the passage of the 2017-'19 biennial budget.

“Frankly, I wish Governor Walker wouldn’t have negotiated with terrorists,” Vos said in the interview, referring to the senators.

“Terrorists? You're calling rogue senators terrorists?” asked the seemingly incredulous interviewer, TV host Mike Gousha. If Gousha was giving Vos an opportunity to change his choice of words, the speaker didn’t seize it.

“Yeah, that’s what they are,” Vos replied. “Because you don’t hold somebody hostage for your own personal needs.”

Unsurprisingly, the comments went over badly with Republicans, Democrats and just about everyone in the Wisconsin political scene. The governor’s spokesperson, Tom Evenson, said “it’s unacceptable the word was used to describe good public servants at a time when our men and women in uniform are fighting terrorism around the world.”

Vos’s fellow Republican in leadership, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, was also quick to rebuke the use of the term “terrorist.”

"Comparing three sitting state legislators to 'terrorists' is beyond inappropriate, and the Speaker should apologize immediately," Fitzgerald said in a statement.

Senate Democratic Leader Jennifer Shilling, D-La Crosse, echoed her GOP counterpart’s sentiment.

"Normalizing this kind of hyperbole has been extremely damaging to our political dialogue," Shilling said.

In Vos’ apology, released Monday afternoon, the speaker acknowledged he should not have used the words he did, but continued to berate the three “rogue holdouts” whom he said abandoned their party and “disrupt[ed] progress on important legislation.”

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“I continue to be concerned, however, [about] the actions of a few Senators, who cannot work with their colleagues in their own caucus,” Vos said in the statement, after a two-sentence apology. “With good negation, comes good-faith give and take. But some Senators chose to continue taking while [threatening] a ‘no’ vote.”

Vos’ harsh words suggest that tensions are still high within the Republican caucus after the Legislature finally adopted the budget 10 weeks past its deadline. Nass said that inappropriate behaviors have become “all-too-common” from Vos this entire session.

It’s not the first time Vos has expressed frustration over the “backroom” deal between Walker and the senators — now-public text messages that Vos sent to Walker in September revealed the speaker was “very disappointed” in the way he was treated during the budget process.

“Not even the courtesy of a phone call before you took out things that were important to me,” Vos said in a text message to Walker. “I won’t forget this.” 

UPDATE Oct. 23 6:11 p.m.: This post was updated to add additional clarity.

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