Dem Senators Slam Zinke Over ‘Konnichiwa’ Remark: ‘Racism Is Not Ok’

on November 7, 2017 in Washington, DC.
Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) talks to reporters with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) following the weekly Democratic policy luncheon at the U.S. Capitol on November 7, 2017. (P... Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) talks to reporters with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) following the weekly Democratic policy luncheon at the U.S. Capitol on November 7, 2017. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images) MORE LESS

Democratic Sens. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) and Mazie Hirono (D-HI) denounced Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke Thursday evening for saying “konnichiwa” to Japanese-American congresswoman Rep. Colleen Hanabusa (D-HI) earlier this week.

In a tweet, Hirono, who is also a Japanese-American, called Zinke’s comments “flippant” and “juvenile” and said the “internment of nearly 120,000 Japanese Americans is no laughing matter.”

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Zinke’s comment came during a House National Resources Committee Thursday hearing when Hanabusa asked him if the National Park Service program that gives grants toward the preservation of Japanese-American confinement camps would be funded this year. Hanabusa is the granddaughter of two internees who were held in one of the confinement camps during World War II.

“Oh, konnichiwa,” Zinke said, before answering her question. He ultimately agreed to fund the program because he thinks it’s “important” to preserve those historic sites. 

“Nope. Racism is not ok,” Duckworth tweeted a few hours later, linking to an article about the exchange.

The Japanese American Citizens League joined the Democratic lawmakers in their denouncement of Zinke’s comments, which they called “flippant,” “inappropriate” and “lacking the respect he afforded other representatives during the same hearing.” The group said comments like Zinke’s reinforce the need for full funding for the Japanese American Confinement Sites (JACS) grant program.

“The injustice of the World War II incarceration of Japanese Americans was due to the very racist sentiments unintentionally exhibited in Secretary Zinke’s flippant comment, that Japanese Americans were and are perpetually foreign,” the organization told TPM in a statement Friday. “If anything, Secretary Zinke’s comment clarifies and reinforces the need for full funding of the JACS program. … We urge Congress to continue funding of the JACS program at the same level as years past.”

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