As Trump Moves Ahead On Agenda, Controversial Election Claim Resurfaces

Jan 24, 2017
Originally published on January 24, 2017 6:06 pm
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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

It was another busy day at the White House. President Trump signed executive actions to try to make good on some of his campaign promises. The president is also facing questions about a bogus claim he first made last year and repeated last night. NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson joins us again from the White House. And Mara, let's start with what President Trump did today.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: President Trump signed a number of executive actions including a memo that would revive the Keystone Pipeline project. That was something that the Obama administration opposed. He also took action to push the Dakota Pipeline forward.

He also said that on Thursday, he's going to meet with Republican lawmakers in Philadelphia at their retreat. They're going to talk about how to repeal and replace Obamacare. On Friday, he hosts his first world leader, the U.K.'s Theresa May.

And he also said he's going to name his first Supreme Court nominee next week. And he met with Senate leaders today to discuss that vacancy. This is a key campaign issue for him and of course a top priority for GOP lawmakers.

SHAPIRO: Since Republicans control the Senate, will the president have a pretty easy time getting his Supreme Court nominee confirmed?

LIASSON: Actually, this will be one of the harder things that he does because this is one of the few things that he needs 60 votes for. So he will need eight Democratic senators. And that suggests he might need to think about a nominee that could get Democratic votes, maybe not a super hardline conservative. But we'll find out next week.

SHAPIRO: Let's get back to this false claim that has come up again that harkens back to the election and the fact that the president lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton. Explain why we're still talking about this.

LIASSON: We're still talking about it because last night at a congressional get together at the White House, Republicans and Democrats who were there said that Donald Trump said 3 to 5 million people who were not legally qualified to vote voted, and that's why he lost the popular vote. This is a claim that is not backed up by any evidence. Clearly it's something still on his mind. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer was asked about this a number of times at today's briefing, and here's some of what he said.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Does the president believe that millions voted illegally in this election, and what evidence do you have of widespread voter fraud in this election if that's the case?

SEAN SPICER: The president does believe that. He has stated that before. I think he's stated his concerns of voter fraud and people voting illegally during the campaign. And he continues to maintain that belief based on studies and evidence that people have presented to him.

LIASSON: Spicer didn't say what that evidence was, except for at one point, he referred to a Pew study that actually is not about voter fraud. It's about irregularities in voter rolls, like the number of dead people on the rolls.

SHAPIRO: Mara, what are the implications of President Trump bringing this up again?

LIASSON: There are a lot of implications. He himself has now cast another shadow on the legitimacy of his win even though he won fair and square. He got 306 electoral votes. But the fact that he didn't win the popular vote is clearly something that continues to rankle him. He keeps bringing this up.

It also raises a lot of other questions. This would be the biggest voter fraud in American history. It would call into question the votes for down-ballot candidates, too. Maybe some Republican senators were elected fraudulently if what he says is true. How does he know that some of those allegedly fraudulent 3 million voters weren't cast fraudulently for him?

And if he believes there has been voter fraud on that scale, wouldn't he want to restore faith in our democracy by calling for an investigation to get to the bottom of this. Now, I asked Sean Spicer about that today, and he wasn't taking the bait. Here's what he said.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

LIASSON: If 3 to 5 million people voted illegally, that is a scandal of astronomical proportions. Doesn't he want to restore Americans' faith in their ballot system? Wouldn't he want an investigation of this?

SPICER: Well, I...

LIASSON: I mean this is a huge, huge scandal.

SPICER: But Mara, you - as I've noted several times now, he's believed this for a long time.

LIASSON: I'm not (unintelligible).

SPICER: And I think he won fairly overwhelmingly, so he's not - and look; we'll work...

LIASSON: I'm asking you, why not investigate something that is...

SPICER: Well, maybe we will.

LIASSON: Maybe we will, but later he said an investigation was just hypothetical.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Mara Liasson, thank you.

LIASSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.