Interior Secretary Ryan ZinkeRyan Keith ZinkeBig-game hunters infuriated by Trump elephant trophy debacle Interior moves ahead with opening wildlife refuge next to contaminated nuclear site House panel approves bill to boost park funding 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 DuckworthDems should run as economic progressives, says ex-Obama strategist Democrats must reconcile party factions to raise blue wave odds Senate Dems want DOJ review of Giuliani's work for foreign entities 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.