WHITE HOUSE —
The White House said Tuesday that President Donald Trump continues to believe that voting by millions of undocumented immigrants cost him a victory in the national popular vote in November's election.
"It's a belief he maintains," White House spokesman Sean Spicer told reporters, one day after the new president rehashed the election at a reception for congressional leaders, repeating the debunked claim that 3 million to 5 million immigrants in the country illegally voted for his opponent, Democrat Hillary Clinton.
Spicer offered no evidence of fraud. Pressed by reporters on what evidence Trump has, Spicer said Trump "has believed that for a while, based on studies and information he has."
But election officials who have analyzed the November 8 vote say there were almost no indications of voter fraud — certainly not on the scale Trump cites.
Several reporters at Tuesday's White House briefing questioned Spicer, asking why if the president believes there was such massive voter fraud, the administration is not launching an investigation.
Spicer said Trump is confident in his Electoral College victory and wants to focus on fulfilling his campaign promises to American voters. When pressed again on the voter fraud allegations by reporters, Spicer said a future investigation is possible.
Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan told reporters he has seen no evidence of rampant voter fraud in the 2016 election.
Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters voter fraud does happen, adding: "There are always arguments on both sides about how much, how frequent and all the rest."
South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, one of the Republican presidential contenders Trump defeated in the run-up to the national election against Clinton, called on the president to stop repeating the claim, saying that if he has evidence of fraud, "he needs to disclose why he believes that."
Clinton won the popular vote count over Trump by nearly 3 million votes. But Trump won where it mattered — in the Electoral College, the system the U.S. uses to pick its presidents, with the state-by-state election results determining the winner, not the national vote total.
Graham, who dropped out of the race for the Republican presidential nomination after winning little voter support, said, "I would urge the president to knock this off. This is the greatest democracy on Earth; we're the leader of the free world, and people are going to start doubting you as a person if you keep making accusations against our electoral system without justification. This is going to erode his ability to govern this country if he does not stop it."
Another of Trump's Republican one-time presidential foes, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, said, "I have no evidence whatsoever, and I don't know that anyone does, that there were that many illegal people who voted, and frankly it doesn't matter. He's the president, and I'm not sure why he brought it up."
Another presidential candidate, Independent Senator Bernie Sanders, who ran as a Democrat against Clinton, told reporters Trump's voter fraud claims are "nonsensical." He said it is "a delusional statement."
Sanders said he fears that Trump is laying the foundation for more restrictive voting laws.
"What I fear about that statement,” he said, “and what is something we should all worry about ... he is sending a message to every Republican governor in this country to go forward with voter suppression."
Sanders called voter suppression the greatest democratic crisis facing the United States.
In a Facebook Live interview with USA Today, Senate Democratic Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said no one in the room with Trump at the White House meeting Monday evening gave much credence to his voter fraud remarks. Schumer called on Republican lawmakers to speak up and challenge false claims.
"When these falsehoods are told, our Republican colleagues have an obligation to reject them," Schumer said.
Trump, apparently worried that his election was delegitimized by Clinton's popular vote advantage, complained about media reports over the weekend that used photos looking from the Washington Monument toward the U.S. Capitol where he was sworn in, that showed far more people attended former President Barack Obama's 2009 inaugural than his.
On Tuesday, Trump posted another photo on his Twitter account from a different vantage point, showing a large crowd in front of the platform where his swearing-in occurred. He said the photo would be hung near where the news media works at the White House.
VOA’s Ken Bredemeier contributed to this report.