The evidence that President Trump is exactly the same as candidate Trump just keeps piling up. After having his press secretary falsely insist that his inauguration crowd was bigger than Obama’s, now Trump himself is repeating a lie about why he lost the popular vote — and displaying his knack for dragging out an unflattering story into multiple news cycles.
The Washington Post reports that during a closed-door meeting with congressional leaders on Monday night, Trump insisted that he only lost the popular vote because between 3 million and 5 million people voted illegally. According to the New York Times, the Huffington Post, and NBC News, Trump said the votes were cast by illegal immigrants, but other reports suggest he wasn’t that specific.
Either way, there’s nothing to back up that claim. Analysis of the November election found almost no instances of voter fraud, and there is no evidence that millions of people cast their ballots illegally. Trump won the presidency by securing 304 electoral votes, but nationwide, Hillary Clinton received 2,864,974 more votes than Trump.
The president’s argument was thoroughly debunked when he tweeted back in November: “I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally.” When asked for evidence, Trump spokesperson Jason Miller pointed to a study that’s been discredited. PolitiFact found that the conspiracy website InfoWars was spreading a report that 3 million votes were “cast by illegal aliens.” The source for the story was a nonexistent report from VoteFraud.org, and two tweets from a man named Gregg Phillips, who refused to say how he came to that conclusion.
Trump reportedly spent about ten minutes rehashing his win during the reception in the State Dining Room. Democratic Representative Steny Hoyer said Trump also bragged about the size of the crowd at his inauguration. “It was a huge crowd, a magnificent crowd. I haven’t seen such a crowd as big as this,” Hoyer told CNN, quoting Trump. He said the president did not “spend a lot of time on that, but it was clear that it was still on his mind.”
Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn confirmed to Politico that Trump repeated his voter-fraud claim on Monday, but he suggested Republican lawmakers will be sticking to their plan of ignoring Trump’s wild declarations. “I didn’t pay a lot of attention to it,” Cornyn said. “I was ready to move onto some policy issues. I didn’t anticipate that discussion.”
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy tried to downplay Trump’s false claim as well, but his explanation made little sense. “We talked about different electoral college, popular votes, going through the different ones,” McCarthy said. “Well, we talked about going back through past elections. Everyone in there goes through elections and stuff, so everybody’s giving their different histories of different parts.”
None of the Republicans who commented on the meeting stressed that there’s no reason to think millions of votes were cast illegally, though spreading such claims can have serious consequences that go well beyond distracting from the president’s agenda. As The Atlantic pointed out in November:
But the more immediate effect of rhetoric like this is probably on the partisan debate over voting laws. Despite the lack of any evidence of systemic voter fraud, Republicans around the country have been advocating for tougher voter laws for the last decade or so. The most commonly proposed provision requires voters to present a photo ID for voting, even though there’s practically no evidence of in-person voter fraud. There is, however, evidence that changes like this — as well as reductions in early voting, another common tack — do disproportionately affect young and minority voters, who tend to vote Democratic.
During his confirmation hearing, Senator Jeff Sessions admitted that he and Trump never discussed the millions of alleged illegal votes, though as attorney general, it would fall on Sessions to prosecute and protect the integrity of U.S. elections. If Trump really thinks he was robbed of a popular-vote win, why isn’t his administration looking for evidence to prove it, and trying to stop it?
This post has been updated with additional details and analysis.