Zinke criticized for 'juvenile' comment at hearing

Democrats rebuked Interior Secretary Ryan ZinkeRyan Keith ZinkeAlaska oil and gas lease sale nets .5 million Former Koch adviser to oversee Interior Department's FOIA requests The Year Ahead: Dems under pressure to deliver on green agenda 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 HironoRubio: ‘I don’t know’ if Nauert has 'detailed knowledge' to succeed as UN ambassador Overnight Defense: Nauert tapped for UN envoy | Trump teases changes to Joint Chiefs of Staff | Trump knocks Tillerson as 'dumb as a rock' | Scathing report details Air Force failures before Texas shooting Dem senator slams Nauert's lack of 'qualifications' for UN ambassador 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.

ADVERTISEMENT

“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.