Interior Secretary Ryan ZinkeRyan Keith ZinkeSenate panel approves Interior nominee over objections from Democrats Interior's border surge puts more officers in unfamiliar role Not 'if' but 'when' is the next Deepwater Horizon spill? MORE is defending himself after he used a Japanese word in response to a lawmaker's question about funding for historical sites memorializing internment camps.

“How could ever saying ‘good morning’ be bad?” Zinke asked reporters following a tour of the U.S.-Mexico border on Saturday, according to The Arizona Republic.

Rep. Colleen Hanabusa (D-Hawaii) corrected Zinke last week after he spoke Japanese to her following her question about grant funding for institutions that provide education on Japanese internment camps during World War II.

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Hanabusa, who is of Japanese descent, was questioning Zinke during a House budget hearing about planned cuts to grant programs that fund institutions that focus on the history of Japanese-Americans, particularly during World War II.

She said the funding is a critical way to learn about what Japanese-Americans went through during the war.

“I believe it is essential that we as a nation recognize our darkest moments so we don’t have them repeat again,” she said, asking Zinke if he’s committed to continuing the $2 million in grant programs.

“Oh, konnichiwa,” Zinke said in response. 

“I think it’s still ‘ohayo gozaimasu’ [good morning], but that’s OK,” Hanabusa said, following a brief silence. 

Zinke faced criticism for the comments.

Sen. Tammy DuckworthLadda (Tammy) Tammy Duckworth25 new sexual harassment claims filed against McDonald's Duckworth tweets photo of female senators showing up first for committee quorum: 'Women getting it done!' Overnight Energy: States fight Trump rollback of Obama lightbulb rules | Greens seek hearing over proposed rule on energy efficiency tests | Top Dem asks GAO to investigate climate threat MORE (D-Ill.) tweeted in response: "Nope. Racism is not ok."

The exchange also drew the ire of Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), who slammed Zinke for acting "flippant" and "juvenile" in his response to Hanabusa's question.