Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, issued an apology of sorts for using the word “terrorist” to describe three members of the state senate in an interview with Mike Gousha on UpFront that aired Sunday.

“As Speaker, I have strived to increase the civility within the legislature,” Vos said in a statement released Monday afternoon. “I now regret using the word terrorist because it goes against the guidelines I’ve set for our chamber, and myself. For that, I apologize.”

While Vos apologized for violating “the guidelines,” he continued his criticism of the three Republican state senators: Chris Kapenga of Delafield, Duey Stroebel of Saukville and Steve Nass of Whitewater. The three conservatives refused to vote for the state budget until they received assurances from Governor Scott Walker that several provisions in the budget would be vetoed.

“I continue to be concerned, however, that the actions of a few Senators, who cannot work with their colleagues in their own caucus, could disrupt progress on important legislation for the people of Wisconsin,” Vos said. “Will we now have to run everything past a few rogue holdouts before committees take executive action?”

Vos continued with a defense of not allowing those outside of the budget negotiations of having a say in the final version of the state budget.

“Every lawmaker has a voice, but we must recognize that we now have large majorities in both houses,” Vos said in his statement. “If the Governor has to negotiate every initiative with more than 80 individual legislators, nothing will get accomplished.”

Vos came under fire from conservatives after the interview with Gousha where he expressed his frustration with the three senators:

“Frankly I wish Governor Walker hadn’t negotiated with terrorists,” Vos said. “That’s a bad way to operate the legislature.”

“Terrorists? You’re calling rogue senators ‘terrorists’?” Gousha asked in a rare follow-up question.

“That’s what they are,” Vos answered. “You don’t hold somebody hostage for your own personal needs. What you say, you negotiate, you give and you take. A lot of the things they got Governor Walker…”

“They might say, ‘that’s politics,’” Gousha interrupted. “That’s what you do.”

Stroebel reacted Sunday evening. “To imply fellow Republican legislators are terrorists is the type of hyperbolic rhetoric Wisconsinites are tired of hearing,” Stroebel said. “Wisconsinites expect more of their leaders than to make these kind of personal attacks.”

Governor Scott Walker’s spokesman Tom Evenson issued a statement critical of Vos’ remarks. “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,” Evenson said.

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, also called on Vos to apologize. “Comparing three sitting state legislators to ‘terrorists’ is beyond inappropriate, and the Speaker should apologize immediately,” Fitzgerald said in a statement Sunday evening.

Nass reacted with a statement on Monday, saying Vos was trying to use the controversy to stop conservative legislation.”In my view, it’s a shallow political ploy to reignite the budget disagreement to lay the groundwork to thwart conservative legislation from advancing in the Fall Floor Session,” Nass said. Nass also called for Vos to apologize.

On Monday afternoon, Kapenga said he understood that being a legislator can have “frustrating moments.”

“However, Speaker Vos choosing to take this to a level so personal is severely inappropriate,” Kapenga said. “The Republican focus this session has been very positive for Wisconsin. My hope is that we can refocus as a team to finish the work we have left to accomplish.”

The conservative group, Americans for Prosperity (AFP), also weighed in. “Instead of insulting legislators for fighting for their principles, Speaker Vos should explain to his caucus and the people of Wisconsin why he rammed through a special interest giveaway to the Public Finance Authority that would have enriched a few businessmen in California while leaving Wisconsin with all the risk,” AFP State Director Eric Bott said in a statement.

In an editorial, RightWisconsin also called on Vos to apologize while reporting that some in the Capitol believe Vos’ intent of stirring up the controversy was to scuttle any future conservative legislation.

Vos’s statement did not address whether the use of the word, “terrorist,” was intended to disrupt the fall legislative session to prevent conservative bills from passing.

Updated 2:55 PM with a statement from Kapenga.

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