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Recap / The West Wing S 03 E 10 Bartlet For America

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Leo is sitting alone in a Congress meeting room, early in the morning. FBI special agent Mike Casper comes in, and Leo asks him about the bomb threats against churches in Tennessee. Agent Casper confirms threats against seven churches in five different counties, that there are 25 agents in the area, as well as a team from the Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms bureau (ATF), and that the governor of Tennessee is being briefed at that moment. Leo says he's going to be stuck on the Hill all day, and asks Agent Casper to keep Josh in the loop on the bomb threats, and to get him a secure hookup so he can monitor it. As Margaret hands Leo his cell phone, indicating Josh is on the other line, Casper wishes Leo luck, and Leo dismisses him.

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Josh, who's on his way to the White House, indicates he knows about the threats, and Leo tells him Agent Casper will be keeping him in the loop. Josh tells Leo to keep his mind focused on his testimony, and Leo tells him to mind his own business. Josh also alludes to getting "the guy" out of the room, and Leo again tells him to worry about the church threats and not him.

Josh: I'm going to help you, 'cause you know why?
Leo: Yeah.

Leo says it's his turn to take the hit, and as Jordan Kendall (Joanna Gleason), his lawyer, walks in, Leo hangs up. As Jordan tells him it's time to go, Leo tries to ask her out to breakfast. Jordan is in no mood, and tells him the committee can't wait; Leo brings up the threats against the churches, all of which are Afro-American, and mentions that's just what he knows about. As they walk towards the House of Representatives hearing room, Jordan tells Leo he shouldn't be nervous; Leo says that's the last thing he is. They pass the press corps, all scrambling to take a picture of Leo, and he makes a joke about having been nominated for a Grammy Award. Jordan asks Leo if he's hiding anything from her, and he says there's a lot of things he's hiding from her.

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Inside the hearing room, Margaret, who's been following the entire time, gives Leo his cell phone, and says it's President Bartlet. The President makes a joke that Leo should perjure himself, and Leo says loudly for the benefit of all ears the President was kidding. President Bartlet tells Leo to let Josh do what he needs to do, and Leo tries to tell him not to worry, but Bartlet has turned his attention to asking about how Jordan looks. Leo says they should do charity gifts and donations the next night, and Bartlet points out he's not working because the next night is Christmas Eve. Leo brings up the governor of Tennessee meeting, and President Bartlet reminds Leo of all the people standing behind him. They hang up, and Congressman Joseph 'Phil' Bruno, the chairman of the House Reform and Government Oversight Committee, asks Leo to swear the witness oath. Jordan asks Leo what's going on, and Leo says to her, "It ain't nothing but a family thing", before swearing the oath.

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After the credits, back in the hearing room, Bruno welcomes Leo (after asking him and Jordan to state their full names) and does a brief recap of why they're there; President Bartlet has MS but didn't tell anyone about it during his presidential campaign or during his current term in office (except for a few people), and the committee wants to know if anyone lied or was told to lie in order to keep that fact a secret. Bruno then introduces the format of the meeting - Majority Counsel will question first, followed by Minority Counsel, followed by each member of the committee from both sides of the aisle, and they'll get five minutes each. Bruno then introduces Cliff, who introduces himself and asks Leo some standard questions; his current job (Chief of Staff), previous job (chairman, Bartlet for America), how long he's known Bartlet (about 32 years, but have only been close friends for about 11 years), and if he's the one who's known President Bartlet the longest (Leo counters Abbey's the one who's known Bartlet the longest, and Cliff concedes the point). Cliff then asks Leo if he was the one who initially asked Bartlet to run for President, and Leo confirms he was, four years earlier in Concord, New Hampshire...

...and in a Flashback, we see Bartlet, then Governor of New Hampshire, in his office. Two staffers are trying to pitch Bartlet on a new tourism campaign for New Hampshire, including a print campaign which emphasizes New Hampshire's suitability for snowmobiles, saying the state should be known for tourism, not as a "crusty New England relic"; but Bartlet is unimpressed.

While this is going on, Leo is pacing in the outer office, and at one point, writes something down on a napkin. Governor Bartlet eventually dismisses the staffers and calls for Mrs. Landingham. She tells him there's no more business but Leo's there. Bartlet yells for Leo, he comes in and they hug each other as Mrs. Landingham leaves. Leo says he's okay, but is coming there under the radar; he wants to get back into politics. Bartlet thinks at first Leo's talking about himself, and says he could easily help Leo run for Senate. Leo, however, is talking about the White House, and when Bartlet points out the skeletons in Leo's closet involving alcohol and drugs, Leo reveals he's not talking about himself. He mentions he's been writing the same three words down wherever he goes on whatever's handy, and he shows Bartlet the napkin he was just scribbling on; it reads "Bartlet for America."

Back in the hearing room, Rathburn, a Republican congressman, asks Leo if Bartlet brought up his MS at that meeting or any subsequent meeting, and Leo says no. Rathburn asks if Leo would have thought twice about asking Bartlet to run if he had known about the MS, and Leo admits he doesn't know. Rathburn tells him to think about the question and answer again. Leo covers his microphone, turns to Jordan, and tells her to act like they're talking. Jordan wants to know what's going on; Leo admits he thinks Rathburn is being snotty and wants to make him wait. He asks Jordan to lunch, but she steers him back to the question. Leo asks Rathburn to repeat the question, and when he does, answers again that he doesn't know.

In the White House lobby, Donna brings Agent Casper to Josh. Josh wants to know how there's no evidence of a conspiracy when 34 black churches have been bombed in 17 months, and Casper dryly notes the FBI must be stupid. They go to the Oval Office, where President Bartlet is meeting with Governor Pratt from Tennessee. President Bartlet wants to send in the National Guard, while Governor Pratt seems to think local law enforcement can do the job. Bartlet brings up the past times U.S. Presidents used the guard in a racially charged situation, and Governor Pratt says it's a different situation. Bartlet doesn't think so, but Pratt points out when Bartlet was governor, he would have felt the same way. Bartlet then dismisses the governor, and when Agent Casper also leaves, Bartlet asks Josh what he's got going on involving Leo. Josh doesn't want to discuss it, even though Bartlet says he knows what happened with Leo at the third debate. Just then, the TV in the room that's showing the hearings shows Congressman Dearborn, who asks Leo about Edith Wilson, which leads President Bartlet to sigh, "The things we do to women."

In the hearing room, Leo acknowledges who Edith Wilson was (the second wife of President Woodrow Wilson), and Dearborn brings up how Wilson essentially ran the countrynote  when President Wilson was incapacitated by a stroke. Jordan interjects that she doesn't see how it relates, and Dearborn switches to asking whether Abbey told anyone else about Bartlet's condition during the campaign. Leo allows she didn't tell him and he doesn't know who else she told, but he smiles at the term "campaign", because he says there wasn't much of one at that point...

...which leads to another Flashback, as C.J. and Toby are tossing a basketball back and forth to each other while Sam watches. They're in a small storefront, and when C.J. tries to throw the ball to Sam, she accidentally throws it out the window. Sam brings up the fact once they knock Wiley out, the campaign needs to show they're serious against Hoynes, and everyone agrees. Sam brings up doing three policy addresses, C.J. says Governor Bartlet should release his tax returns, and all three of them agree to ask him to take a physical, since he's ten years older than Hoynes.

That night, Abbey and Jed are walking to the parking lot, and discussing the staff. Jed brings up the fact the staff wants him to do a full financial disclosure, which Abbey of course has no problem with, and a physical, which concerns her, even though she says he's in remission. Jed says he's not going to lie, but says it won't matter, because he's just going to get beaten badly on Super Tuesday. They kiss each other and then Abbey gets into a waiting car and is driven off. As Jed watches her...

...we go back to the present, in the Oval Office, as Dearborn reiterates that Abbey hadn't told anyone about her husband having MS. President Bartlet sighs again, "The things we do to women."

In the main office area of the West Wing, where Christmas decorations are up, Sam finds Josh and tells him the hearings are back from a break. Sam brings up the basketball story, but Josh, not being there at the time, doesn't want to talk about it, and asks Sam if he can find a way to pull Congressman Gibson out of the hearing. They go over a couple of names, but none of them are available. Josh won't tell Sam why he wants this, but Sam understands it's important, and promises to try. As Josh looks through his address book, we see on the TV in his office Chairman Bruno admonishing the committee, "I would like our ten-minute breaks to be closer to fifteen minutes than they are to a half hour"...

...and back in the hearing room, Bruno turns over the questioning to Congressman Erickson, who, after thanking Bruno for his leadership, asks Leo if he knows about Article II, Section 1, Clause 6 of the Constitution. Leo turns back to Jordan, and she confirms Leo thinks Erickson is being snotty. Leo tries to ask Jordan to dinner, but she says she doesn't want him to keep things from her. Leo turns back and says he is. Erickson says the clause allows the Vice-President to assume the President's duties if something happens to him; Leo corrects him and says it allows the Vice-President to assume the President's duties only if the President dies, and unless that happens, the President is impeached, or the 25th amendment is invoked, the Vice President stays where he is. Erickson asks who picked Hoynes to be the Vice-President, and Leo says Bartlet did, with the advice of the staff. Erickson asks if the staff would have benefited from knowing about Bartlet's MS; Leo says he doesn't see how and gets angry when Erickson implies Bartlet could have died in office, bringing up again that MS isn't fatal and that it is bad manners to use a congressional hearing just to score some cheap points. Leo also says Hoynes was the right pick and was told of Bartlet's condition...

...which leads to another Flashback in the presidential suite of a hotel where the Democratic convention is taking place. Bartlet polls all of his staff, and they all agree with the choice of Hoynes. Bartlet opens the door, where Hoynes is outside with his aides, and asks him to come in. Hoynes greets Leo and Abbey, and Bartlet shakes his hand and asks him to be Vice-President. As the TV shows images of the delegates at the convention, Bartlet invites Hoynes to sit with him, and everyone except Abbey leaves. Bartlet offers Hoynes coffee, which he declines, congratulates him on his campaign, and then discloses his MS. Hoynes is shocked, and stares at Abbey, who reveals nothing. He says he wants to think about it; Bartlet asks for his immediate answer, but Hoynes won't give it, and walks out. Bartlet looks at Abbey, and says he's going to stretch his legs.

Back in the present, Josh is waiting for Sam when Donna tells him to go to the mural room. Just then, Agent Casper comes in and reveals they can prove a conspiracy involving the churches; turns out police pulled over a teenage boy for a failing brake light, he led police on a high-speed chase, and when they caught him, he confessed. Josh congratulates Agent Casper, and brings him to the mural room. President Bartlet is there with Governor Pratt and a civil rights leader, and Josh has Agent Casper tell the news. Bartlet tells Governor Pratt the FBI is going in, and thanks Agent Casper. Everyone leaves but Josh, who admits he wasn't able to get Gibson out of the room. Bartlet is understanding, and says Leo will get through it.

In the hearing room, after one representative finishes questioning Leo, Congressman Gibson takes his turn. He brings up President Bartlet collapsing in the Oval Office two years earlier, and Leo says as far as he knows, that's the only time that happened since President Bartlet took office. Gibson then asks if that's the only time since the campaign began that Bartlet collapsed, and after a long pause, Leo admits it wasn't. As the room buzzes, and Cliff looks at Congressman Bruno quizzically (he doesn't know what's going on either), Gibson starts to ask about the third presidential debate on October 30th when Jordan breaks in and asks for a recess. Bruno protests they've just come back from a recess, but Jordan points out everyone else has asked for a recess. Bruno reluctantly allows for one ("We'll take a five-minute break. Please, let's keep it to ten minutes."), and as Jordan and Leo leave the room, Bruno and Cliff both corner Gibson, wondering what he's up to. Gibson assures them it's fine, but Bruno says the three of them need to go somewhere and talk.

In a meeting room, Leo calls Josh, who apologizes for not getting Gibson off the floor. Leo tells him not to worry. Jordan enters and tells Leo in no uncertain terms to tell her what Gibson is talking about. As Leo explains in voice-over...

...we have the final Flashback of the episode. In a hotel suite in St. Louis, Leo meets with two CEO's and potential donors; Leo explains the race was tight and he needed money. Meanwhile, at the debate site, Bartlet was preparing with the rest of the staff, and he approved of how things were. Leo says of Bartlet, "A podium is a holy place for him...He sees it as a genuine opportunity to change minds - also his best way of contributing to the team. He likes teams...I love him so much." Meanwhile, back in the hotel suite, Leo and the CEO's were having steak sandwiches, and the CEO's were having Johnnie Walker scotch. Leo begged off, though the reason he gave was so he could stay sharp. As the two CEO's admit they're worried about having backed the wrong horse, we see a third man in the room, though not who he is. Leo then asks for a sip of the scotch. He explains to Jordan he doesn't just have one drink, because he's an alcoholic. Jordan asks who the third man was, and in the flashback, we see it's Gibson, who at that point is just thinking about getting into politics. When the other three leave, Leo goes to the hotel mini-bar and starts drinking from it. Back at the debate site, C.J., Josh, Sam and Toby are talking about getting Bartlet's answer on Social Security to less than 90 seconds when they notice Bartlet isn't looking very well. Sure enough, he manages to mumble for Abbey before collapsing. Sam catches him, and Josh calls Leo, who's still in the hotel room, completely plastered. He manages to make it to the phone as Josh tells him what happened to Bartlet. A little too loudly, Leo says okay and hangs up. There's a knock on the door; it's Gibson, who came to get his briefcase. He notices the bottles, and Leo distracts him by saying Bartlet collapsed and he has to get down to the debate site.

Back in the meeting room, Jordan upbraids Leo for getting drunk. Leo points out it's what being an alcoholic is like, especially since his father and grandfather were both alcoholics. Jordan finishes his thought; "Ain't nothing but a family thing." Leo tells her only Josh and President Bartlet know, and the reason is while his friends embraced him when he first got out of rehab, they wouldn't feel the same way if he knew he slipped up. A guard tells them they're due back at the hearing. Jordan then asks why Leo he's been asking her out, and Leo admits he likes her. Jordan tells him to answer whatever questions he's asked simply and directly, and agrees to go out with him to dinner.

In another conference room, Cliff upbraids Gibson for making the hearings about embarrassing Leo instead of whether or not President Bartlet lied; Gibson says it's what the majority wants. Cliff says he'll resign from the committee before that happens, and says Gibson is killing the party. Cliff then appeals to Bruno, asking him to recess the hearings until after the holidays. Gibson angrily reminds him the RNC won't stand for it, and Bruno asks for a minute alone.

Josh watches the hearings as Sam comes up and apologizes for not getting anyone, and Josh says it's all right.

In the hearing room, Bruno tells Gibson to continue, but as Gibson starts to repeat his question, Bruno changes his mind and recesses the hearings until after the holidays. Cliff then announces the hearings are recessed and Bruno wishes everyone a merry Christmas. Josh sighs in relief in his office while Leo looks shocked. Also, he's upset about having to tell Jordan the story, and Jordan points out she's going out with him to dinner, so he shouldn't complain. Leo then asks if he can change the time to Christmas Eve, and she agrees.

Leo goes back to his office and doesn't notice President Bartlet is already there until he speaks up. Bartlet asks Leo if he got a date with Jordan; Leo says it's none of his business, and then teases Bartlet about coming back to see how he screwed up in Tennessee. Bartlet then gives him a Christmas gift; a small box with a bow wrapped around it. When Leo opens it, he sees a picture frame with the original napkin with "Bartlet for America" written on it. Bartlet then thanks Leo and leaves. Leo starts to sit down and starts crying.

This episode contains examples of:

  • The Alcoholic: Again, Leo.
  • The Bus Came Back: Mrs. Landingham, but only for a flashback.
  • Call-Back: We confirm Vice President Hoynes knew about Bartlet's MS; this is also why Bartlet had to beg to make him VP.
    • Josh insists on trying to help Leo by quoting the latter's "guy in a hole" speech from "Noel".
  • Continuity Nod: Leo is still married to Jenny in the flashbacks.
  • Department of Redundancy Department: The new tourism slogan the staffers in Governor Bartlet's office are trying to pitch him on is, "New Hampshire: It's What's New!" Leo lampshades it when he comes into the office.
  • Description Porn: As Leo is explaining to Jordan what happened in the hotel room before Governor Bartlet's speech:
    Leo: (mumbling)I like the little things.
    Jordan: I didn't hear you.
    Leo: (louder) I said, "I like the little things." The way a glass feels in your hand - a good glass, thick, with a heavy base. I love the sound an ice cube makes when you drop it from just the right height. (we see Leo with the others in the hotel room) Too high and it'll chip when you drop it. Chip the ice and it'll melt too fast in the scotch.
    CEO: You ever try this, Leo? It's Johnny Walker Blue. Bartenders are selling it for thirty bucks a shot.
    Leo: Good scotch sits in a charcoal barrel for 12 years. Very good scotch gets smoked for 29 years. Johnny Walker Blue...is 60-year-old scotch.
  • Foreshadowing: The recess Congressman Bruno decides to take will become important later.
    • Leo mentions it's bad form to use a congressional hearing just to score cheap points over the opposition. Guess what Gibson was gearing up for the whole time.
  • One Steve Limit: Played with; the two staffers pitching "New Hampshire; It's What's New!" are named Alan and Allen.
  • Sarcasm-Blind: The two guys pitching the "New Hampshire: It's What's New!" campaign to Governor Bartlet in flashback clearly believe he is deeply interested in the subject, that his comments are completely sincere and that he is not in any way being sarcastic or snarky out of irritated boredom. They are wrong on all counts.
  • Snark-to-Snark Combat: Bartlet and Mrs. Landingham already had this down pat even when he was governor:
    Mrs. Landingham: Governor, does it frustrate you to constantly aim for humor and yet miss so dramatically?
  • Strawman Political: Averted once again with Congressman Bruno and with Cliff; played straight with Gibson.
  • Waxing Lyrical: When Alan and Allen start pitching the snowmobile campaign to Governor Bartlet, he says, "Slow down, you're moving too fast."
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