Assembly speaker calls Republicans terrorists; "Don't hold somebody hostage for your own personal needs"

MADISON — The speaker of the Wisconsin Assembly apologized Monday for calling three fellow Republican lawmakers "terrorists" over how they negotiated the state budget with Gov. Scott Walker.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos issued a written apology, a day after he called the state senators terrorists during a television interview. The comment elicited a bipartisan rebuke and calls from Republicans for Vos to apologize.

Vos said he regretted using the word terrorist to describe the conservative state senators and apologized, but he continued to call them "rogue holdouts" who stepped outside of the routine budget negotiating process to get what they wanted.

The deal that state Sens. Duey Stroebel of Saukville, Steve Nass of Whitewater, and Chris Kapenga of Delafield, struck with Walker in September resulted in him vetoing several parts of the budget they objected to. Some of the vetoes included making repeal of the state's prevailing wage requirement take effect immediately rather than in a year, limiting days when school districts can seek referendum votes and doing away with a $2.5 million study on tolling.

Republicans have their strongest majorities in the Wisconsin state Senate and Assembly in decades and have controlled both the Legislature and governor's office since 2011. Vos has been speaker, the highest position in the Assembly, since 2013.

"The last seven years proved that we are better when we work together," Vos said. "I don't want to see the constant, defiant demands of a few derail our progress."

Vos made the terrorist comment during an interview aired Sunday on the WISN-TV's program "Up Front with Mike Gousha."

"Frankly, I wish Governor Walker wouldn't have negotiated with terrorists," Vos said in the interview.

Gousha followed up asking Vos if he was calling those senators terrorists.

"Yeah, that's what they are," Vos said. "Because you don't hold somebody hostage for your own personal needs. You negotiate, you give and you take."

Vos has been openly critical of the lawmakers' tactics, previously saying they were holding the 10-week-late budget hostage by crafting their own deal outside of one worked out by Republican leadership and Walker.

Vos in late September texted his displeasure to Walker over how the budget vetoes were being handled, telling him he was "very disappointed in the way I've been treated" and "I won't forget this."

But his calling the senators "terrorists" unleashed a swift and loud rebuke across the Statehouse.

Walker spokesman Tom Evenson said in a statement that, "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."

Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said the comment was "beyond inappropriate." Nass said that Vos should stop "inappropriate behaviors that have become all-to-common from him this entire session." Kapenga called it "severely inappropriate" and Stroebel said people expect more from their leaders than "these kind of personal attacks."

The leader of the conservative group Americans for Prosperity-Wisconsin, Eric Bott, joined the lawmakers in calling for an apology. Democratic Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling likened Vos to President Donald Trump and asked Republican leaders "to end the name calling and political gamesmanship and start focusing on the issues important to Wisconsin children, families and seniors."