SASABE, Ariz. -- Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is defending hiswhen responding to a question from a congresswoman of Japanese descent. The congresswoman he addressed, U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, Democrat-Hawaii, on Saturday called his comments "racial stereotyping."
The Arizona Republic reported Sunday that Zinke was asked about his use of the word "konnichiwa" while touring the U.S-Mexico border in Arizona on Saturday.
Zinke told reporters: "How could ever saying 'good morning' be bad?"
Hanabusa asked Zinke on Thursday whether he would continue a program that preserves sites where Japanese-Americans were interned during World War II.
Zinke replied with "konnichiwa" -- a Japanese greeting typically spoken in the afternoon. The Democratic congresswoman corrected him and used the Japanese phrase for good morning.
Zinke's remark drew criticism from some lawmakers, civic groups and on social media as being insensitive and perpetuating stereotypes.
Hanabusa tweeted Saturday night she wanted to focus on how the "administration ignored one of the most racially motivated periods in American history by defunding the Japanese American Confinement Sites (JACS) grant program." She also wrote that when Zinke "decided to greet me in Japanese (when no one else was greeted in their ancestral language), I understood this is precisely why Japanese Americans were treated as they were more than 75 years ago."