Zinke criticized for 'juvenile' comment at hearing

Democrats rebuked Interior Secretary Ryan ZinkeRyan Keith ZinkeTrump flails as audience dwindles and ratings plummet OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Senior Interior official contacted former employer, violating ethics pledge: watchdog | Ag secretary orders environmental rollbacks for Forest Service | Senate advances public lands bill in late-night vote Senior Interior official contacted former employer, violating ethics pledge: watchdog MORE on Thursday for comments he made during a House budget hearing about planned cuts to grant programs that fund institutions focusing on the history of Japanese-Americans.

"The internment of nearly 120,000 Japanese Americans is no laughing matter, @SecretaryZinke. What you thought was a clever response to @RepHanabusa was flippant & juvenile," Sen. Mazie HironoMazie Keiko HironoSenate Democrats demand answers on migrant child trafficking during pandemic Overnight Defense: Guardsman to testify Lafayette Square clearing was 'unprovoked escalation' | Dems push for controversial Pentagon nominee to withdraw | Watchdog says Pentagon not considering climate change risks to contractors Democrats urge controversial Pentagon policy nominee to withdraw MORE (D-Hawaii) tweeted, sharing a clip of the exchange.

During the hearing, Zinke took a question from Rep. Colleen HanabusaColleen Wakako HanabusaHawaii New Members 2019 Ige wins second term as Hawaii governor The Hill's Morning Report — Trump heads to New York to shore-up GOP districts MORE (D-Hawaii), who told the Interior chief that she only recently learned of her family's history at the hands of internment camp officials due to the issue not being discussed by Japanese-Americans.

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“I believe it is essential that we as a nation recognize our darkest moments so we don’t have them repeat again,” Hanabusa told Zinke.

“Oh, konnichiwa,” Zinke said in response before answering Hanabusa's question.

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

In a tweet Thursday evening, Rep. Judy ChuJudy May ChuLawmakers of color urge Democratic leadership to protect underserved communities in coronavirus talks Geraldo Rivera to Trump: Asian friends of mine say 'China virus' has 'racial overtone' Ocasio-Cortez, Democrats blast GOP on House floor for 'culture' of sexism MORE (D-Calif.) said the comment was offensive whether Zinke meant it to be or not.

"No better example of why we need continued support for historical sites where the rights of Japanese Americans were violated b/c of race," Chu wrote.

"Zinke's comment betrayed a prejudice that being Asian makes you a perpetual foreigner. Intentional or not, it's offensive. He should apologize," she added.

Thousands of Japanese-Americans were interned by the U.S. government during World War II. In 1988, President Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act, formally apologizing for the program and granting $20,000 in compensation to any Japanese-American interned during the war.

Zinke said during the hearing Thursday that he was committed to preserving history, and that the funding may have been caught up in other budget cuts.

The Interior Department has faced criticism for its budgets under the Trump administration, in particular Zinke's plan to raise the fee for entering national parks.