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Chinese Investment Pits Wall Street Against Washington

Westlake Legal Group 00DC-CHINAMONEY-facebookJumbo Chinese Investment Pits Wall Street Against Washington ZTE Corp United States Economy Trump, Donald J Stocks and Bonds Shaheen, Jeanne Securities and Exchange Commission Securities and Commodities Violations Rubio, Marco Romney, Mitt Pensions and Retirement Plans New York State Common Retirement Fund MSCI Inc Morgan Stanley Law and Legislation International Trade and World Market Human Rights and Human Rights Violations Hangzhou Hikvision Digital Technology Co Ltd Government Employees Gillibrand, Kirsten E Gazprom China Mobile Ltd China Communications Construction Co China California Public Employees Retirement System BlackRock Inc

WASHINGTON — The rivalry between the United States and China has spread to a fight over financial ties between the countries, pitting Washington security hawks against Wall Street investors.

Members of Congress and the Trump administration are warning that Chinese companies are raising money from American investors and stock exchanges for purposes that run counter to American interests. To help curb the flow of dollars into China, they have turned their sights on an unlikely target: their own retirement fund.

The Thrift Savings Plan is the retirement savings vehicle for federal government employees, including lawmakers, White House officials and members of the military. Beginning next year, the fund is scheduled to switch to a different mix of investments that would increase its exposure to China and other emerging markets. Lawmakers and some in the Trump administration are trying to stop that move, saying the change would pump federal workers’ savings into companies that could undermine American national security or have been sanctioned by the United States.

Last Tuesday, a bipartisan group of senators sent a letter to the plan’s governing board urging it to reverse its decision.

“For China, this is the greatest free lunch program for capital they’ve ever known, because they’re able to penetrate the investment portfolios of scores of millions of Americans in basically one shot,” said Roger Robinson, the president of the consulting firm RWR Advisory Group, which has distributed research on the subject to lawmakers and members of the Trump administration.

The push to forestall more investment in China is part of a broader effort by some officials in Washington to separate ties between the world’s two largest economies. It is also another indication that President Trump’s conflict with China will persist, even if the United States signs a limited trade deal with Beijing later this year.

Some China critics are pressing Mr. Trump to go beyond the tariffs he has already imposed and erect larger barriers between the two countries, including restrictions on the flow of technology and investment.

In recent months, officials have been making more frequent calls to re-examine China’s presence in the stock portfolios of American investors. Administration officials, including members of the National Security Council, have begun pressing the Securities and Exchange Commission to increase scrutiny of Chinese firms, which have long skirted the auditing and disclosure requirements of American stock exchanges, putting investors at risk. Chinese law restricts the company documentation that auditors can transfer out of the country, limiting their visibility to American regulators.

Policymakers are considering more stringent proposals. In June, a bipartisan group of senators introduced legislation that would delist foreign firms that do not comply with American financial regulators for a period of three years.

Another area of concern is the decision by companies that compile major stock indexes to include more firms that are listed on Chinese exchanges. While investors can’t put money directly into an index, they can invest in a fund that mirrors an index’s particular basket of securities.

As global stock markets have steadily trended upward in recent years, more investors have turned to passive investing, in which a fund simply mirrors a major index, rather than active investing, in which fund managers try to pick certain stocks to outperform the market.

And as China’s economy has continued to grow, index providers have increased the weighting of Chinese stocks. The move has been a win for Beijing, funneling money into the Chinese market and helping to enhance the international profile of its companies and its currency, the renminbi.

Like many retirement vehicles, the Thrift Savings Plan, which manages $600 billion of savings by millions of federal government employees, offers participants the option of investing in an index fund.

The plan, which is similar to a 401(k), gives federal workers the option to invest in a fund with international exposure. If they do, their savings go to a fund featuring the same securities as a popular index developed by Morgan Stanley.

Currently, the fund mirrors an index with stocks solely from developed countries, called the MSCI Europe, Australasia, Far East Index. But on the advice of an outside consultant, Aon Hewitt, the board decided to shift those investments to better diversify its portfolio and obtain a higher return. In mid-2020, the fund is to begin mirroring Morgan Stanley’s MSCI All Country World ex-U.S.A. Index, which includes shares of more than 2,000 companies from dozens of developed and emerging countries, including China.

Mr. Trump’s advisers have joined Democrats and Republicans in Congress in expressing concerns about the planned change. They say it will funnel the savings of Americans into some companies that have murky financial records, or pursue activities that run counter to America’s national interest.

Senators Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida, and Jeanne Shaheen, Democrat from New Hampshire, sent a letter last week to the body that manages the plan, the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board, urging it to reverse a decision that they said would invest retirement funds in companies “that assist in the Chinese government’s military activities, espionage, and human rights abuses, as well as many other Chinese companies that lack basic financial transparency.”

The letter, which was also signed by Kirsten Gillibrand, a Democratic senator from New York, as well as the Republican senators Mitt Romney of Utah, Josh Hawley of Missouri and Rick Scott of Florida, said, “It is our responsibility to these public servants to ensure that the investment of their retirement savings does not undermine the American interests for which they serve.”

A spokeswoman for Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board said it was reviewing the letter and had invited the consultant, Aon Hewitt, to review its previous recommendations at a meeting on Monday.

One company in the new index that the senators have pointed to is Hikvision, a Chinese manufacturer of video surveillance products that the United States placed on a blacklist earlier this month. The Trump administration says the company has provided surveillance equipment that aided China in a campaign targeting a Muslim minority, including in constructing large internment camps in the autonomous region of Xinjiang.

The MSCI All Country World ex U.S.A. Index also includes AviChina Industry & Technology Company Ltd., a subsidiary of China’s state-owned manufacturer of aircraft and airborne weapons, which manufactured planes and missiles that were the centerpiece of a military parade in Beijing earlier this month. Also included in the index is China Mobile, which is blocked from providing international services in the United States; ZTE, which the United States fined last year for violating sanctions on Iran and North Korea; and China Communications Construction Company, which is reportedly involved in island building in the South China Sea.

The index also includes Russian companies that have been sanctioned over Russia’s intervention in Ukraine, cyberespionage and other issues. A December 2018 report by RWR Advisory Group found that five of the 11 Russian constituents of the index had been sanctioned by the Treasury Department, including the Russian gas companies Gazprom and Novatek.

Richard V. Spencer, secretary of the Navy, said in a Wall Street Journal op-ed article last week that the savings of members of the military should not be “unwittingly helping to underwrite the threats China and Russia pose to their lives.” Mr. Spencer said the board must reverse its decision “for the good of the country and those who serve it.”

Business leaders and Wall Street executives have started pushing back, saying efforts to restrict investment constitute government interference and could destabilize financial markets. When policymakers begin to pull the threads of financial connections between the United States and China, it’s not clear how much they will unwind, they say.

“There are certainly reasons why the U.S. should be concerned about various things China is doing and the rivalry it presents,” said Patrick Chovanec, chief strategist at the investment advisory firm Silvercrest Asset Management. “But by the same token, they’re the second-biggest economy in the world. If you push them off a cliff, you better make sure you’re not handcuffed to them.”

Reversing the decision could cost federal employees who are saving for retirement. China is now home to more companies in the global Fortune 500 than the United States. And while China’s growth has slowed sharply in recent years, its economy is still expanding at about 6 percent annually, roughly three times as fast as the United States’.

Fast-growing economies tend to be favorable for stock investing, suggesting that investors could be giving up some gains if they’re blocked from the Chinese markets. In an analysis for the Thrift Retirement Board, Aon Hewitt found that $1 invested in the securities on the new index would have returned $3.28 after 23 years, while $1 invested in the securities of the original index would have returned $3.05.

“At the end of the day, stock investing is about being exposed to growth,” said Lisa Shalett, chief investment officer at Morgan Stanley Wealth Management. “That is where the growth is.”

— Alan Rappeport contributed reporting. Matt Phillips contributed from New York.

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Democrats Slow Impeachment Timeline to Sharpen Their Public Case

Westlake Legal Group 21dc-impeach01-facebookJumbo Democrats Slow Impeachment Timeline to Sharpen Their Public Case United States Politics and Government Trump, Donald J Trump-Ukraine Whistle-Blower Complaint and Impeachment Inquiry Romney, Mitt Republican Party impeachment House of Representatives Democratic Party

WASHINGTON — House Democrats have resigned themselves to the likelihood that impeachment proceedings against President Trump will extend into the Christmas season, as they plan a series of public hearings intended to make the simplest and most devastating possible public case in favor of removing Mr. Trump.

Democratic leaders had hoped to move as soon as Thanksgiving to wrap up a narrow inquiry focused around Mr. Trump’s dealings with Ukraine, buoyed by polling data that shows that the public supports the investigation, even if voters are not yet sold on impeaching the president.

But after a complicated web of damaging revelations about the president has emerged from private depositions unfolding behind closed doors, Democratic leaders have now begun plotting a full-scale — and probably more time-consuming — effort to lay out their case in a set of high-profile public hearings on Capitol Hill.

Their goal is to convince the public — and if they can, more Republicans — that the president committed an impeachable offense when he demanded that Ukraine investigate his political rivals.

“Just the facts baby,” said Representative Hakeem Jeffries of New York, the chairman of the House Democratic Caucus. “If we tell that story with simplicity and repetition, the American people will understand why the president must be held accountable. If we don’t, then there is great uncertainty, and in that vacuum Donald Trump may find himself escaping accountability again.”

Mr. Trump, increasingly embittered by the impeachment inquiry, complained on Monday that Republicans were not defending him aggressively enough.

“Republicans have to get tougher and fight,” Mr. Trump said during a rambling, hourlong question-and-answer session with reporters at a cabinet meeting. “We have some that are great fighters, but they have to get tougher and fight, because the Democrats are trying to hurt the Republican Party for the election, which is coming up, where we’re doing very well.”

The president belittled Senator Mitt Romney, Republican of Utah, one of the only members of his party who has signaled he may be open to impeaching Mr. Trump, underscoring how anxious the senator’s defection has made him about possible cracks in support from his own party.

Launching into a series of attacks on Democrats, Mr. Trump said approvingly that they were “vicious and they stick together. They don’t have Mitt Romney in their midst — they don’t have people like that.”

“They stick together,” Mr. Trump added. “You never see them break off.”

It was the second time in as many days that he has complained about a lack of support from Republicans.

“When do the Do Nothing Democrats pay a price for what they are doing to our Country, & when do the Republicans finally fight back?” Mr. Trump tweeted late Sunday night.

The president’s allies on Capitol Hill tried Monday to ramp up their defense of the president by forcing a vote in the House to censure Representative Adam B. Schiff, the California Democrat who is leading the impeachment inquiry as the chairman of the Intelligence Committee. The vote, which failed in the Democratic-led chamber, was a display of Republican solidarity for Mr. Trump.

There are risks for Democrats in the longer timeline, which could make it more difficult for lawmakers in politically competitive districts, who fear a backlash from constituents if they appear to be preoccupied with targeting Mr. Trump instead of addressing major issues such as gun safety or health care.

And Democrats are all too aware that Mr. Trump has succeeded in the past in steering the subject away from allegations of misconduct on his part, as he did with the investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election conducted by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III.

This time, Democratic leaders hope to deny him the opportunity.

They have issued subpoenas to a growing cast of characters, including Rudolph W. Giuliani, Mr. Trump’s private lawyer who is at the center of the Ukraine pressure campaign, and have demanded documents from Vice President Mike Pence. They have invited or compelled Trump administration officials past and present to appear at the Capitol before rolling television cameras, and cloistered them behind closed doors to extract a daily drip of testimony that backs up their case.

That effort continues Tuesday when William B. Taylor Jr., the top American diplomat in Ukraine, is scheduled to testify behind closed doors about text messages in which he wrote to other officials that it was “crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign.” On Wednesday, investigators will question Laura Cooper, a Pentagon official, about decisions to hold up Ukraine’s military aid.

Several other depositions of administration officials have been delayed until next week because of events honoring Representative Elijah E. Cummings, the Maryland Democrat who died last week, Democratic officials said.

To keep Republicans on the defensive in the interim, Speaker Nancy Pelosi held a House vote last week on Mr. Trump’s decision to pull back American troops from Syria — which was widely panned by lawmakers in both parties — and will force a vote this week on measures to combat foreign election interference.

On Monday, Ms. Pelosi offered the latest bit of what has become a daily, sometimes hourly, stream of information to shape the Democrats’ argument, circulating a fact sheet for reporters entitled “Truth Exposed: The Shakedown, the Pressure Campaign and the Cover-up” to sum up what has been learned about the Ukraine affair so far, along with a 90-second video laying out the case for impeaching Mr. Trump.

Ms. Pelosi’s aides have advised lawmakers to avoid talking at length about bit players or subplots in the drama they are unspooling, emphasizing the need to return again and again to Mr. Trump’s own words from a July phone call with President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine. “Do Us a Favor,” a quote from a reconstructed transcript of that call, was the title of their video.

Democratic leaders have pushed lawmakers with backgrounds in law enforcement or national security to make television appearances to discuss the inquiry, including Representative Elissa Slotkin of Michigan, a former C.I.A. analyst; Representative Val Demings of Florida, a former police chief; and Representative Tom Malinowski of New Jersey, a former State Department official.

“If we get mired in esoteric process concerns, we will lose the ability to tell a powerful story to the American people about the abuse of power that is connected to the Trump-Ukraine scandal,” Mr. Jeffries said.

Some Republicans, already uneasy about the allegations at the heart of the Ukraine inquiry, have grown increasingly uncomfortable with Mr. Trump’s behavior, and unwilling to defend him on a range of topics, including the Syria decision and his plan — abruptly abandoned in the face of a bipartisan outcry — to hold the Group of 7 summit of world leaders at one of his resorts in Florida.

The admission — later recanted — by Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff, of a quid pro quo linking foreign aid to Mr. Trump’s effort to pressure Ukraine to investigate his political rivals, was a worrying piece of evidence for nervous Republicans that the president and his team are woefully unprepared to confront the impeachment onslaught.

Mr. Romney, a frequent Trump critic, has called the president’s attempts to solicit dirt on a political rival “wrong and appalling.”

While there is no evidence that other Republicans are taking their cues from Mr. Romney, he is not the only member of the party to publicly express concern. Senator Lisa Murkowski, Republican of Alaska, said last week that a president should never “hold up foreign aid that we had previously appropriated for a political initiative. Period.” Representative Francis Rooney, Republican of Florida who announced that he will not run for re-election, declined to rule out supporting impeachment. John Kasich, the former Republican governor of Ohio, said impeachment should move forward.

During his remarks at the White House, the president blasted House Democrats for pursuing impeachment, calling the effort to oust him “very bad for our country” and suggesting that dealing with the inquiry was getting in the way of more important issues.

“I have to fight off these lowlifes at the same time I’m negotiating these very important things,” Mr. Trump said.

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For Once, Republicans Break With Trump, but Not on Impeachment

Westlake Legal Group 08dc-hulse-facebookJumbo For Once, Republicans Break With Trump, but Not on Impeachment United States Politics and Government United States International Relations Trump, Donald J Trump-Ukraine Whistle-Blower Complaint and Impeachment Inquiry Romney, Mitt Republican Party Portman, Rob McConnell, Mitch Haley, Nikki R Graham, Lindsey

WASHINGTON — Senator Lindsey Graham, an unsparing critic of President Trump before he entered the White House, rarely if ever questions him anymore, even after the president urged foreign governments to investigate his political rivals.

But on Monday, Mr. Graham found something to criticize, and he could not have been tougher on Mr. Trump.

“I expect the American president to do what is in our national security interest, and it is never in our national security interest to abandon an ally,” Mr. Graham, Republican of South Carolina, railed on Fox News over Mr. Trump’s decision to pull back in Syria.

He and other Republicans joined Democrats in saying that the move could potentially clear the way for a Turkish offensive against Kurdish fighters who have helped the United States root out the Islamic State. Mr. Graham also delivered what could be considered the ultimate insult to Mr. Trump: comparing his Syria policy to that of his predecessor, Barack Obama.

Consistently assailed for refusing to stand up to the president, Senate Republicans this week briefly found their voices, bombarding Mr. Trump with public complaints over his Syria decision. The fleeting moment of dissonance revealed what has emerged as an informal rule of thumb among Republican senators who consider themselves foreign policy experts, with wide latitude to weigh in and potentially influence a president who has far less experience on the subject than they do. They are willing to break with Mr. Trump on matters of international affairs — but only when they believe there are no domestic political consequences for doing so.

Don’t expect the same reaction when it comes to Mr. Trump’s dealings with Ukraine, the subject of an accelerating impeachment fight. Republicans see that issue as an existential threat to the president and their party’s rule in Washington, and are reluctant to legitimize what they regard as an overreach by Democrats by joining in their criticism.

In fact, just a day after his harsh assessment of the president’s decision on Syria, Mr. Graham rushed to Mr. Trump’s defense in the Ukraine matter by announcing a hearing that could serve as a counterweight to the Democratic-led impeachment inquiry. He said on Tuesday that the Judiciary Committee, which he is the chairman of, would hear from Rudolph W. Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer, about “corruption and other improprieties involving Ukraine,” which Mr. Trump has argued justified his pressure campaign to get the Ukrainian president to investigate Democrats.

When it comes to foreign policy, many senators have spent considerable time developing their expertise, making repeated trips to the Middle East and other hot spots and becoming deeply invested in their positions. They feel confident expressing their opinion, even when it is quite contrary to Mr. Trump’s.

“Many of us have been dealing with this for a decade or two decades, and I think there are a lot of visits to the area and a lot of discussions that stand behind our views on these issues,” said Senator Roy Blunt, Republican of Missouri, who had previously counseled the White House on the necessity of maintaining forces in Syria. “This is an area where it has been a consistent concern that leaving those places would create bigger problems than staying.”

The opinions of Mr. Blunt and his colleagues also align with those of much of the Republican foreign policy establishment, current and former top members of the military, and many conservative media commentators, bolstering their willingness to speak out. There truly is strength in numbers. Just a few Republicans — notably Senators Rand Paul of Kentucky and Mike Lee of Utah, both avowed members of the party’s noninterventionist wing — hailed the president’s decision.

“Foreign policy has always been Trump’s Achilles’ heal with Senate Republicans,” said Alex Conant, a Republican strategist and former staff adviser to Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, another Republican who faulted the president’s Syria decision — but not his comments about China and Ukraine. Mr. Conant said Republicans were also driven by their view that Mr. Trump’s foreign policy missteps were more damaging, requiring a more forceful response than his day-to-day incendiary statements.

“Everyone forgets Trump’s tweets after a couple of days,” Mr. Conant said. “But history will never forget if the U.S. allows our Kurdish allies to be massacred.”

At the same time, foreign policy — unlike, say, impeachment — is lower on the president’s priority list. Differences of opinion are less likely to spur him to lash out as he has in recent days, for example, at Senator Mitt Romney, Republican of Utah, after Mr. Romney said that the president’s requests of Ukraine and China to investigate Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. were “wrong and appalling.” Mr. Trump responded with name-calling, disparagement and a gleeful reminder of Mr. Obama’s defeat of Mr. Romney in 2012.

Foreign policy appears to be one of the few areas where Mr. Trump is willing to brook some difference of opinion. Pressed on Monday about the tough criticism of his Syria policy from the likes of Mr. Graham; Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the majority leader, and Nikki R. Haley, Mr. Trump’s former United Nations ambassador, the president was uncharacteristically restrained.

“I have great respect for all of the people that you named,” Mr. Trump said. “And they have their opinion, and a lot of people do. And I could also name many more than you just named of people that totally are supportive. You see the names coming out; people are extremely thrilled because they say it’s time to bring our people back home.”

If Mr. Trump is less likely to be angered by criticism of his foreign policy, many Republicans believe their constituents will be as well. The issue usually does not stir the kind of base revolt and primary challenges back home that have become major concerns for Republicans who dare to cross Mr. Trump on other matters. While many of the president’s core supporters are no doubt eager to see him follow through on his campaign vow to end America’s overseas entanglements, plenty of other Republicans are worried about a premature withdrawal from a trouble spot and a potential resurgence of the Islamic State.

Taking on the president over his dealings with Ukraine, however, is another matter entirely. Even those such as Senator Rob Portman, Republican of Ohio, who have joined Mr. Romney in taking issue with Mr. Trump’s interactions with Ukrainian officials say that they don’t believe any offense claimed by Democrats rises to the level of impeachment.

The re-election campaign of Mr. McConnell, who felt compelled on Monday to encourage the president to exercise presidential leadership and reconsider his Syria plan, is currently behind online advertisements in which Mr. McConnell vows to use his position as majority leader to thwart impeachment even before any articles calling for the president’s ouster reach the Senate.

The break with Mr. Trump over Syria has another ancillary benefit for Republicans who are often accused of falling in line behind Mr. Trump like automatons even when he is at his most outrageous: It allows them to point to a significant policy development on which they have quickly and clearly spoken out against him. It cannot be said that they never differ with Mr. Trump, but those differences remain few and far between even as Democrats ramp up their effort to oust the president.

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Facing Fresh Revelations, Republicans Struggle to Mount a Defense of Trump

Westlake Legal Group 03dc-repubs-facebookJumbo Facing Fresh Revelations, Republicans Struggle to Mount a Defense of Trump United States Politics and Government Trump, Donald J Trump-Ukraine Whistle-Blower Complaint and Impeachment Inquiry Romney, Mitt Republican Party Pelosi, Nancy McCarthy, Kevin (1965- ) impeachment Hurd, Will Biden, Joseph R Jr

WASHINGTON — Republican leaders are struggling to settle on a clear message and effective strategy for responding to Democrats’ aggressive and fast-moving impeachment investigation of President Trump, thrown off by early stumbles and a chaotic White House that have upended efforts to set a steady tone.

With Mr. Trump effectively functioning as a one-man war room — doling out a new message, and provocative statements, almost by the hour — top Republicans have labored to find a unified response to push back against the inquiry and break through a near daily cascade of damaging information.

Instead, they have tried to avoid tough questions about Mr. Trump’s conduct, staying mostly silent. Few defended Mr. Trump’s declaration on Thursday that China, as well as Ukraine, should investigate former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., a leading Democratic presidential candidate, and his son Hunter Biden. Fewer still have commented on text messages released as part of Democrats’ inquiry that show that envoys representing Mr. Trump sought to leverage the power of his office to prod Ukraine into opening investigations that would damage his Democratic opponents — and that some of them viewed it as a clear quid pro quo.

Inquiries to nearly two dozen congressional Republicans, including members of leadership and the Foreign Affairs and Intelligence committees, yielded only two responses on Friday.

“The obvious challenge for everybody here is that they are working with a president with no tolerance for anyone to criticize” him, said Brendan Buck, a former counselor to the last two Republican House speakers, Paul D. Ryan and John A. Boehner.

Rather than acknowledging that Mr. Trump’s call with the Ukrainian president, in which he asked that the leader investigate a leading political rival, was inappropriate and moving on to a debate about whether that rose to impeachment, Mr. Buck continued, “they’re getting stuck wrapped around the axle of whether what the president did was wrong, or whether he even did it in the first place.”

In an attempt to rally and unify the conference, Mr. Trump joined a call with House Republicans on Friday afternoon, according to a person present who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss it. The president emphasized to lawmakers that Democrats were refusing to focus on solutions that would help the American people and instead trying to overturn the result of the 2016 election, the person said.

But even Republican lawmakers who have tried to stay on message and defend the president have not been as successful as they have hoped.

Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, the chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, for instance, told The Wall Street Journal on Friday that he had confronted Mr. Trump in a phone call in late August about allegations that he was engaging in a quid pro quo with Ukraine, and that the president had flatly denied it.

In doing so, however, Mr. Johnson brought to light new information that was ultimately unhelpful to Mr. Trump: that the American ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland, had told the lawmaker that aid to Ukraine was tied to Mr. Trump’s request to have Kiev investigate Democrats. He later told reporters at a constituent stop that he tried to get permission from Mr. Trump to tell Ukraine’s president that American aid was on its way in the wake of those allegations, but Mr. Trump refused, The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.

Yet a small minority of Republicans spoke out against Mr. Trump on Friday. Senator Mitt Romney, Republican of Utah and a former presidential candidate, delivered the sharpest rebuke. The president’s appeal to China and Ukraine to investigate the Bidens was “brazen and unprecedented,” Mr. Romney said, calling the conduct “wrong and appalling.”

Representative Will Hurd of Texas, a former C.I.A. officer and member of the Intelligence Committee who is retiring next year, also denounced Mr. Trump’s suggestion that China should investigate the Bidens. But in an interview on Friday with CNN, Mr. Hurd declined to make a definitive judgment about the text messages.

“I think some of these things are indeed damning,” he said. “However, I want to make sure we get through this entire investigation before coming to some kind of conclusion.”

None of those reactions are in line with the one that Republican leaders have settled on for defending the president. They have argued that there was nothing improper about the president’s suggestion that a foreign country should investigate one of his political rivals, and that no quid pro quo was suggested.

Representative Steve Scalise of Louisiana, the No. 2 Republican, said in an interview on Thursday that “a lot of people” want to get to the bottom of the rumors about the Bidens and that Mr. Trump “is echoing what people have been calling for, for a long time.” Senator Marco Rubio of Florida suggested Mr. Trump was simply trying to provoke outrage from the news media, arguing of his public appeals to China and Ukraine, “That’s not a real request.”

The party’s scattered responses underscore the challenge for Republican leaders of setting a message for a set of developments that are out of their control, said Antonia Ferrier, the former communications director for Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the majority leader.

“It’s very difficult to message on quicksand,” she said.

Problems for House Republicans surfaced almost as soon as the formal inquiry began, with a halting performance last weekend by Representative Kevin McCarthy, Republican of California and the minority leader, on CBS’s “60 Minutes.” Mr. McCarthy appeared not to have read the transcript of a call between Mr. Trump and the Ukrainian president that is at the heart of the impeachment inquiry; as he tried to defend the president, the correspondent Scott Pelley noted that he was reciting a set of talking points that the White House had circulated earlier.

Republican lawmakers and aides fretted privately that Mr. McCarthy looked unprepared and uncertain, and that their party had no strategy for confronting the crisis engulfing the president. Since then, leaders have buckled down to devise a fusillade of messages they hope will resonate with the public as the investigation unfolds.

An early version of their defense centered on three main arguments: that Democrats are truly trying to impeach the president, that nothing in Mr. Trump’s call with the Ukrainian president is impeachable and that Democrats are exploiting the call to achieve an end result they had hoped for from the beginning of Mr. Trump’s presidency, impeachment.

But in a sign of how Republicans’ strategy has continued to shift, Mr. McCarthy in recent days has appeared to adopt a number of other approaches, most notably introducing a message that focuses narrowly on Democrats’ impeachment process. That strategy hinges on the belief that voters will reject Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s decision not to hold a vote to start an impeachment inquiry. Republicans argued in a legal brief on Thursday that the House had not in fact begun a real impeachment investigation because it had not authorized one with a full vote.

The strategy tracks with one the White House has considered, as top officials weighed sending a letter to Ms. Pelosi to inform her that they would not comply with demands for documents or witnesses until the full House voted to formally open an impeachment inquiry. But on Friday, aides in the West Wing were reassessing the move, first reported by the website Axios, worrying that it might only draw out the impeachment process.

Borrowing a page from Democrats during the impeachment of President Bill Clinton, Republicans are also working to demonize the leaders of the inquiry. Mr. McCarthy is supporting a resolution by Representative Andy Biggs of Arizona, the chairman of the Freedom Caucus, to formally censure Representative Adam B. Schiff of California, the chairman of the Intelligence Committee, who has taken a leading role.

Mr. Scalise rallied his deputies during a call on Thursday afternoon, saying he would lead a series of all-conference member briefings moving forward, according to a person on the call who insisted on anonymity to describe it. Representative Steve Chabot of Ohio, a manager during the Clinton impeachment, outlined what lawmakers could expect in the weeks to come.

“What members really want are all the facts because there are a lot of allegations that have been thrown around,” Mr. Scalise said.

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Trump Officials Turn Over Whistle-Blower Complaint as Impeachment Inquiry Begins

WASHINGTON — House Democrats rushed on Wednesday to plot the course of a historic impeachment inquiry into President Trump, getting their first glimpses of the secret intelligence whistle-blower complaint that touched off the investigation that could lead to his removal.

Less than 24 hours after Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced that the House would pursue an official impeachment inquiry, the disclosure of the complaint to Congress underscored how rapidly things were changing now that lawmakers have made the pivot to using their powers under the Constitution to weigh charges against the president.

Ms. Pelosi spent Wednesday largely sequestered behind closed doors, strategizing with her leadership team, top aides and a group of six committee leaders investigating Mr. Trump. She repeatedly stressed that she wanted the House to move “expeditiously” to uncover new facts about Mr. Trump’s attempts to pressure President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine to investigate Joseph R. Biden Jr., one of his leading political rivals, for corruption.

But Democrats did not intend to hold a vote on the House floor to formally authorize the inquiry, as has been done in the past, lawmakers and senior party officials said. Instead, they were planning to use the coming weeks to build as strong a case as they could against Mr. Trump, with an eye toward drafting articles of impeachment against him. That would mean the House would not vote on the matter unless the articles of impeachment were brought to the floor.

As they strategized and debated how best to structure the inquiry, lawmakers made headway in obtaining documentary evidence that could constitute a crucial piece of their case. Mr. Trump’s dealings with Ukraine are at least part of the whistle-blower complaint that the Trump administration had withheld from Congress until Wednesday afternoon, and which is said to contain a detailed account of the president’s attempts to pressure a foreign power for personal political gain.

Democrats plan to make those interactions the top priority of their impeachment case, senior lawmakers and aides familiar with the speaker’s thinking said, emphasizing again and again what Ms. Pelosi has called the president’s “betrayal” of his oath, of national security and of the American electoral process.

Representative Adam B. Schiff of California, the chairman of the Intelligence Committee who is leading the House’s Ukraine investigation, said early Wednesday afternoon that a newly released summary of a July conversation between Mr. Trump and the Ukrainian leader, in which Mr. Trump offered the assistance of his personal lawyer and the attorney general, only added urgency to that point.

“The notes of the call reflect a conversation far more damning than I or many others had imagined,” Mr. Schiff told reporters, calling the conversation a “classic, mafia-like shakedown of a foreign leader” that constituted “very powerful evidence of that kind of potential impeachable offense.” On Wednesday afternoon, his committee also finally got its hands on the complaint itself.

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“The notes of the call reflect a conversation far more damning than I or many others had imagined,” said Representative Adam B. Schiff, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.CreditAnna Moneymaker/The New York Times

As the facts around Mr. Trump’s alleged pressure campaign came into clearer focus, though, significant questions went unanswered about the scope and speed of Democrats’ inquiry, with lawmakers from the party’s progressive and moderate wings at odds over how to handle accusations of presidential wrongdoing.

For now at least, Democrats do not intend to limit their inquiry to the Ukraine episode. They are planning to consider other matters they have been investigating as possible impeachable offenses, including the findings of the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, who investigated Russia’s interference in the 2016 elections and Mr. Trump’s attempts to derail that inquiry. Each could still form the substance of separate articles of impeachment for consideration by the House.

But during a meeting with members of her leadership team, the speaker initiated a discussion about whether Democrats should limit their case strictly to the Ukraine matter and attempts by Mr. Trump and his administration to keep it from Congress, people familiar with the conversation said. An aide to Ms. Pelosi cautioned that no final decisions had been made.

Proponents of limiting the impeachment inquiry argue that the Ukraine case makes for a fresher, simpler case to make to voters, but also that it could create space for national security-minded Republicans to cross party lines.

Representative Mikie Sherrill, a freshman Democrat who represents a swing district in New Jersey, said her party had not made its case to voters that Mr. Trump obstructed justice in the Russia investigation, and would be better served to confine the impeachment inquiry to the president’s dealings with Ukraine.

“I am worried about it getting too broad,” Ms. Sherrill said.

Representative Elissa Slotkin of Michigan, another first-term Democrat who holds a seat Mr. Trump won in 2016, said she spoke privately with Ms. Pelosi on Tuesday night to warn that the newly announced inquiry must be more focused than the six-committee investigation long underway.

“Whatever process moving forward we have, it should be different, it should be strategic, clear and efficient,” Ms. Slotkin said in an interview.

Representative Mikie Sherrill, a Democrat who represents a swing district in New Jersey, said her party had not made its case to voters on obstruction of justice or other offenses and would do best to narrow the impeachment case to the Ukraine matter.CreditAnna Moneymaker/The New York Times

Democrats were closely watching their Republican counterparts for any signs of potential cracks in support for Mr. Trump. There was no expectation that party leaders — many of whom began the day at the White House, reviewing the transcript before it was public and hearing via phone from the president — would level a word of criticism.

“It’s now clear that Democrats launched a formal impeachment inquiry on the basis of rumors, rumors that turned out to be false,” said Representative Steve Scalise of Louisiana, the No. 2 House Republican.

But there were faint signs of growing discomfort among a handful of Republicans, both about what has been revealed about Mr. Trump’s actions and his administration’s handling of the whistle-blower complaint.

Most notably, Senator Mitt Romney of Utah, the 2012 Republican nominee for president, told reporters that the summary of the call was “deeply troubling.” And when asked at the Atlantic Festival in Washington later in the day why he was one of the few Republicans criticizing the president, Mr. Romney took a swipe at his party.

“I think it’s very natural for people to look at circumstances and see them in the light that’s most amenable to their maintaining power, and doing things to preserve that power,” he said.

Mr. Romney was not entirely alone. Representative Chris Stewart, Republican of Utah and a member of the Intelligence Committee, said that “there were some things that gave me a little pause” in the summary of the call. He would not elaborate, but suggested he needed to see more information.

The situation in the House reflected just how quickly Democrats’ views of impeachment had evolved in the past week. Although the House Judiciary Committee has been conducting an investigation for months into possible obstruction of justice and abuse of power, House Democrats remained divided over an official move toward impeachment until the emergence of the secret whistle-blower complaint about Mr. Trump’s dealings with Ukraine, and his administration’s attempts to block Congress from learning more about it.

Senator Mitt Romney, Republican of Utah, was one of just a few members of his party to express alarm about Mr. Trump’s conversations with the president of Ukraine.CreditErin Schaff/The New York Times

Now, Democrats are wary of repeating some of the mistakes they believe they made around the rollout of Mr. Mueller’s report, when many of them now think they moved too slowly and allowed Mr. Trump and his allies to define what wrongdoing looked like.

“There is an understanding that all justice should be swift and sure and that this has to happen deliberately, but relatively quickly,” said Representative Jim Himes, Democrat of Connecticut and a member of the Intelligence Committee.

That will be made more difficult by the fact that the House is scheduled to depart for a two-week recess on Friday. Some Democrats and progressive activists called for it to be canceled.

“For us to not tend to this matter first and foremost, when we are calling it a matter of national security, a matter that’s so incredibly significant, I think leaving for two weeks would be irresponsible,” said Representative Susan Wild, Democrat of Pennsylvania.

But Representative Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, the second-ranking Democrat, said on Wednesday that it was important to preserve the recess so lawmakers could go home and explain the building case against the president to their constituents. And committees involved in the investigations planned to remain active over the break, potentially holding hearings.

Jonathan Martin and Emily Cochrane contributed reporting.

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