Trump undercuts bipartisan effort with voter fraud claim

President Donald Trump hosts a reception for House and Senate leaders in the the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, Monday, Jan. 23, 2017. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

WASHINGTON — Even as President Donald Trump starts reaching out to lawmakers and business and union leaders to sell his policies, he’s still making false claims about election fraud.

During a bipartisan reception with lawmakers at the White House Monday evening, Trump claimed the reason he’d lost the popular vote to his Democratic rival was that 3 million to 5 million immigrants living in the U.S. illegally had voted. That’s according to a Democratic aide familiar with the exchange who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the private meeting.

There is no evidence to support Trump’s claim.

The assertion appeared to be part of a developing pattern for Trump and his new administration in which falsehoods overshadow outreach efforts.

After a contentious weekend, Trump began his first full week as president bounding from one ornate room of the White House to another as he played host to business, labor and Congressional leaders. Again and again, he ordered aides to summon journalists from their West Wing workspace at a moment’s notice for unscheduled statements and photo opportunities.

Among those meetings: a reception at the White House for congressional leaders of both parties, with plenty of meatballs and small talk.

Trump on Tuesday will continue his outreach efforts as he meets with executives from the auto industry.

Trump tweeted early in the morning that his focus will be creating and keeping jobs.

“I want new plants to be built here for cars sold here,” he wrote.

Also on Tuesday, Trump is expected to speak by phone with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and meet with his newly sworn-in CIA Director Mike Pompeo.

Trump’s comments on the popular vote were similar to claims he made on Twitter in late November that he had won the electoral college in a “landslide” and “won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally.” Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by nearly 2.9 million votes despite losing the electoral college. There is no evidence that voter fraud significantly affected the vote.

Earlier Monday, Trump charted a new American course abroad, withdrawing the United States from the sweeping Trans-Pacific Partnership, using one of his first actions in office to reject a centerpiece of Barack Obama’s attempts to counter China and deepen U.S. ties in Asia.

For Trump, the move was a fulfillment of a central campaign promise. He has repeatedly cast the 12-nation trade pact — which was eagerly sought by U.S. allies in Asia — as detrimental to American businesses

“Great thing for the American worker what we just did,” Trump said in brief remarks as he signed a notice in the Oval Office.

The Obama administration spent years negotiating the Pacific Rim pact, though the mood in Washington on trade soured over time. Obama never sent the accord to Congress for ratification, making Trump’s actions Monday largely symbolic.

The start of Trump’s first full week in office had begun as a reset after a tumultuous weekend dominated by his and his spokesman’s false statements about inauguration crowds and their vigorous complaints about media coverage of the celebrations. While Trump’s advisers have long accepted his tendency to become fixated on seemingly insignificant issues, some privately conceded that his focus on inauguration crowds was unhelpful on the opening weekend of his presidency.

In addition to his executive action on TPP, Trump signed memorandums freezing most federal government hiring — though he noted an exception for the military — and reinstating a ban on providing federal money to international groups that perform abortions or provide information on the option. The regulation, known as the “Mexico City Policy,” has been a political volleyball, instituted by Republican administrations and rescinded by Democratic ones since 1984.

The actions were among the long list of steps candidate Trump pledged to take on his opening day as president. But other “Day One” promises were going unfulfilled, including plans to propose a constitutional amendment imposing term limits on members of Congress and terminating Obama’s executive actions deferring deportations for some people living in the U.S. illegally.

Spokesman Sean Spicer said Monday that Trump intended to follow through on his proposals, though on a more extended timeframe to ensure maximum attention for each move.

Yet he appeared to suggest that Trump would not move quickly — or perhaps at all — to reinstate deportations for young immigrants protected from deportation under the Obama administration.

Spicer said Trump’s focus would be on people in the U.S. illegally who have criminal records or who pose a threat.

“That’s where the priority’s going to be, and then we’re going to continue to work through the entire number of folks that are here illegally,” he said.

Spicer — making his first appearance at the briefing room podium since his angry tirade against the press on Saturday — also appeared to back away from Trump’s assertion that he could move the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. While presidential candidates have long made similar pledges, all have abandoned the idea over concerns that following through would further inflame tensions in the volatile region.

“We are at the early stages in this decision-making process,” Spicer said of the possible embassy relocation. “If it was already a decision, then we wouldn’t be going through a process.”

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Associated Press writers Ken Thomas, Erica Werner, Jonathan Lemire and Jill Colvin contributed to this report.

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Follow Julie Pace at http://twitter.com/jpaceDC

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