(WASHINGTON) — Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is receiving heat from some lawmakers for greeting a Japanese American congresswoman with the phrase “Konnichiwa” after being asked a question Thursday about continuing funds for the Japanese American Confinement Sites program.
The program preserves confinement sites where Japanese Americans were detained during World War II.
“Will we see it funded again in 2018?,” asked Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, D-Hawaii, whose grandfathers during World War II were among the estimated 120,000 Japanese Americans sent to U.S. confinement camps.
“Oh, Konnichiwa,” Zinke replied with a phrase often used in the afternoon.
“I think it’s still ‘ohayo gozaimasu,’ but that’s okay,” Hanabusa corrected him with a phrase typically used in the morning.
Zinke’s comment quickly raised eyebrows as one audience member’s jaw dropped immediately after his remark.
Lawmakers quickly came to Hanabusa’s defense – rebuking Zinke for his remarks.
“My colleague asked Sec. Zinke a serious question about gov’t funding and received the response “Konnichiwa.” This blatantly insensitive remark by @secretaryzinke is uncalled for and is not behavior that a cabinet secretary should exhibit,” Rep. Grace Meng, D-N.Y. tweeted.
Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, also responded to Zinke’s comments calling them “flippant and juvenile.”
“The internment of nearly 120,000 Japanese Americans is no laughing matter, @SecretaryZinke,” she tweeted.
ABC News reached out to the Interior Secretary’s office, but did not receive a response.
Zinke said to the congresswoman that the issue “probably got caught up in the priorities of fixing” other agency matters.
Zinke concluded his response by telling Hanabusa he’d work on the issue with her.
“I will look at it and I’ll work with you on it, because I think it is important,” he added.
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