It’s been a dreadful week for Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, a close personal friend of Exxon and BP and a noted personal flag enthusiast. In a Senate hearing on Tuesday, Zinke defended himself against charges of ethics violations related to his use of public money to charter private flights—including one $12,000 trip in an oil executive’s plane—and compared the experience of absorbing criticism about his department’s decision to spend nearly $139,000 on office doors to being shot at during his time as a Navy SEAL.
Zinke’s troubles continued today at a hearing of the House Committee on Natural Resources. Never one to pass up an opportunity to pander to a female political opponent, Zinke tried out some Japanese on Hawaiian Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, whose grandparents had been interned during World War II. Hanabusa asked Zinke about grants that had been cut for the historical preservation of a memorial to Japanese prisoners killed in Hawaiian work camps, invoking her own ancestors and a particularly ugly, amnesia-riddled chapter of American history.
“Oh, konnichiwa,” Zinke said, smiling, using a term normally meant for the afternoon. “I think it’s still ‘ohayo gozaimasu’ [good morning], but that’s okay,” Hanabusa responded, after a brief but painful silence.
Zinke told Hanabusa priorities like bridges and pipelines would come before he could look into her state’s site. Through the afternoon the interior secretary lumbered through contradictory statements in his native tongue, dodging responsibility for elephant trophy imports and stalling for time on a forthcoming expansion of offshore drilling off the Florida coast.