Watch Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke Embarrass Himself with Flippant Response to Japanese Internment

News & Politics

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke made observers cringe Thursday when he was asked about his department's funding for the Japanese American Confinement Sites Grant.

Rep. Colleen Hanabusa asked if Zinke was committed to the grants, which President Donald Trump's 2018 budget has proposed to cut.

"Oh. Kon'nichiwa!" Zinke said, grinning, causing an attendee's jaw to drop. 

“I think it’s still ‘Ohayo gozaimasu,’ but that’s okay,” said Hanabusa, using the Japanese phrase for "good morning," clearly unamused. 

Hanabusa's grandfathers were sent to internment camps by the American government during World War II.

Zinke later said he would look into the funding for the grants, but many observers found his exchange with the lawmaker inappropriate. 

"No better example of why we need continued support for historical sites where the rights of Japanese Americans were violated b/c of race. Zinke's comment betrayed a prejudice that being Asian makes you a perpetual foreigner," said Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA) on Twitter. "Intentional or not, it's offensive. He should apologize."

Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI) tweeted: "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."

Watch the exchange below:

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