Trump told congressional leaders: I would have won the popular vote if not for the millions who voted illegally for Hillary

Hey. We all have our favorite conversational icebreakers.

It makes me sad that history will never know the looks on the faces of Ryan, Pelosi, Schumer, et al., as it dawned on them that grumbling about millions of illegal votes isn’t just something Trump does on Twitter to mollify his fans. He believes it, enough so to bring it up at his first meeting with the most powerful members of the legislative branch to talk policy. It must have been like watching Captain Queeg talking about the strawberries.

The claim, which he has made before on Twitter, has been judged untrue by numerous fact-checkers. The new president’s willingness to bring it up at a White House reception in the State Dining Room is an indication that he continues to dwell on the implications of his popular vote loss even after assuming power.

Mr. Trump appears to remain concerned that the public will view his victory — and his entire presidency — as illegitimate if he does not repeatedly challenge the idea that Americans were deeply divided about sending him to the White House to succeed President Barack Obama…

Representative Steny H. Hoyer, Democrat of Maryland, who attended the meeting, said that Mr. Trump also talked about the size of the crowd for his Inaugural Address.

“It was a huge crowd, a magnificent crowd. I haven’t seen such a crowd as big as this,” Mr. Hoyer told CNN, quoting Mr. Trump. He added that Mr. Trump did not “spend a lot of time on that, but it was clear that it was still on his mind.”

WaPo’s sources at the meeting reported the same thing. Hoyer, at least, came away wondering if Trump himself really believes some of the things he says or if he just says them for effect. Er, what effect could he have hoped to achieve by telling congressional leaders that he suspects Hillary got millions of illegal votes when he knows, or should know, that every one of them thinks the idea is looney tunes? The Democrats in the room must have been tempted to follow up by asking him about Obama’s birth certificate, just to see if he’d take the bait and wind himself up.

Also, per Jake Tapper, if the president of the United States is convinced that millions of people voted illegally in the last election — a number that could easily affect the outcome in 2020 if it’s repeated — how is investigating this not a top priority for him and the Republican Congress?

Relatedly, via WaPo, a little insight into Trump’s preoccupation with the reporting on crowd size:

Over the objections of his aides and advisers — who urged him to focus on policy and the broader goals of his presidency — the new president issued a decree: He wanted a fiery public response, and he wanted it to come from his press secretary…

Many critics thought Spicer went too far and compromised his integrity. But in Trump’s mind, Spicer’s attack on the news media was not forceful enough. The president was also bothered that the spokesman read, at times haltingly, from a printed statement.

Trump has been resentful, even furious, at what he views as the media’s failure to reflect the magnitude of his achievements, and he feels demoralized that the public’s perception of his presidency so far does not necessarily align with his own sense of accomplishment.

The irony of him harrumphing about the popular vote and crowd size is that he’s had a solid start to his presidency policy-wise. He signed an executive order giving HHS power to weaken ObamaCare’s individual mandate. He signed another order just today authorizing the Keystone pipeline. He’s made a bunch of strong cabinet picks, starting with Mattis, Kelly, and Pompeo. All available indications point to an excellent Supreme Court pick soon in the form of either Neil Gorsuch or William Pryor. He scored a nice political win for himself yesterday too in meeting with labor leaders, who gushed about him afterwards in ways you rarely hear from the left about a Republican president. The focus should be on all of that, as his advisors obviously understand. Instead he chases the white whale of popularity, seemingly not realizing that expectations for him are low enough that popularity will surely come if he surprises everyone by being low-key and sticking to policy in his public pronouncements. Imagine if Spicer had walked out at Saturday’s press conference and said that he wanted to address the dubious reporting on crowd size but the president had ordered him to discuss the administration’s plans for reducing outsourcing instead. Headline: “Trump all business on bringing back jobs.” People would love it. All he has to do is be a little less Trump-y and let his actions speak for themselves and he’ll have all sorts of new admirers.

And like I say, his staff knows it. Speaking of which, note that the WaPo piece quoted above cites interviews with “nearly a dozen senior White House officials and other Trump advisers and confidants.” That’s a lot of leaking for a White House so soon into a new administration. They may claim to hate the media but clearly there are a bunch of people around Trump who are fully prepared to use it to suit their own ends, either by undermining rivals for power or disclaiming responsibility for whatever weird off-script thing Trump did most recently. When Kellyanne Conway said on Sunday that the White House might need to rethink its relationship with the media, did she mean leaking like a sieve to them?

Update: Lindsey Graham begs Trump to knock it off.

In other news, Trump is having a photo of the inauguration crowd installed in the White House press hall, presumably to taunt the media, because that’s what he spends his time thinking about.