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Zinke criticized for 'juvenile' comment at hearing

Democrats rebuked Interior Secretary Ryan ZinkeRyan Keith ZinkeHUD official quits amid Interior Department watchdog controversy Overnight Energy: Outdoor retailer Patagonia makes first Senate endorsements | EPA withdraws Obama uranium milling rule | NASA chief sees 'no reason' to dismiss UN climate report Interior Department sued over withholding details on trophy permits, endangered species 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 HironoKavanaugh tensions linger after bitter fight Chris Cuomo: Presumption of innocence didn't apply to Kavanaugh because it wasn't a court case Lindsey Graham hits Dem senator: 'The Hirono standard is horrific' MORE (D-Hawaii) tweeted, sharing a clip of the exchange.

During the hearing, Zinke took a question from Rep. Colleen HanabusaColleen Wakako HanabusaThe Hill's Morning Report — Trump heads to New York to shore-up GOP districts Case makes political comeback by winning Hawaii House primary Hawaii’s governor makes improbable comeback 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 ChuHouse passes two bills in new GOP tax package State Department: Allegations of racism 'disgusting and false' Dems vow to grab Trump tax returns upon taking majority 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.