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Recap / The West Wing S 03 E 11 H Con One Hundred Seventy Two

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At 10:45 pm, Leo and Jordan are in the Rayburn House Office Building, walking out of the elevator to a room guarded by three policemen. They let Leo and Jordan in, where Cliff and another counsel are waiting. Jordan asks if the policemen can wait at the end of the hall, so it doesn't seem like Cliff is trying to intimidate Leo. Leo says he isn't, but Cliff agrees to tell the policemen to step away. Once he comes back, Cliff tells Leo their entire conversation will be off the record. He brings up Congressman Gibson, and where his questioning was going, which Leo acknowledges. Cliff then offers his deal; the Chairman is willing to end the hearings right now in exchange for H.R. 172, a joint Congressional resolution condemning President Bartlet for lying to the American people about his M.S. Cliff also says the White House (Leo correctly guesses he means President Bartlet) can't object to the resolution, and any Democrat who wants to vote for it must be allowed to do so; he also tells Leo the Chairman thought the message would look better if it came from Leo. Leo, of course, does not take this well:

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Leo: Okay. Well... I'll just call the President and suggest to him that he allow a huge bipartisan vote on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives calling him a liar, and that he welcome the result. Then, I'm gonna flap my wings and fly to Neverland.
Jordan: Leo...
Cliff: I don't think it's a matter of-
Leo: (firmly) I take a bullet for the President. He doesn't take one for me.

Leo asks if that's the only deal they have, and Cliff admits it is. Leo walks out; Jordan asks for time to get Leo to change his mind, and Cliff says she has one day.

Sam is with Josh, Toby, a somewhat sleepy C.J., and several junior staffers in the Roosevelt Room, telling them about The Camera Doesn't Lie; What I Saw at the Bartlet White House, a tell-all book written by Ron Burkhalt, a former photographer at the White House who worked in the Communications Office. Sam's assigned everyone chapters that presumably involve them, and he's set up a war room downstairs so they can attack Burkhalt's credibility and turn him into a punch line before the book comes out in three weeks. Josh thinks Sam's taking it too seriously, as he remembers Burkhalt being a buffoon, but Sam points out being a buffoon has never bothered the press or the American public.

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Larry: (reading from his excerpt) "Bartlet was playing a round of golf with Toby Ziegler, the prickly, mumbling Communications Director whose inner, bitter darkness spelled the breakup of the one marriage we know about."
Toby: Yeah.

Toby asks if there's anything else, Sam says no, and thanks everyone. As Josh and Toby walk out, and head towards Toby's office, Josh brings up Amy Gardner, and asks advice on how he can ask her out without actually asking her out. Toby brings up a number of issues that matter to the Women's Leadership Council, and they eventually agree if the White House stalls on Paid Family Leave, that will do the trick. Toby then asks Josh if he's inside; he brings up the fact Josh seemed nervous about Congressman Gibson, and then relieved when the hearings recessed, and says he's okay with not knowing what's going on as long as Josh is inside. Josh confirms he is, and lawyers are working on when Toby needs to know.

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In the outer Oval Office, Charlie tells Bartlet he picked up something for him at a flea market; a map of the Holy Land from 1709. Bartlet thinks it's beautiful; Charlie offers to have it framed for him, but Bartlet wants to keep it around to admire it some more. Leo comes in, and they head into the Oval Office, Bartlet asks about the meeting he had. Bartlet correctly guesses they wanted to censure him, but Leo says the meeting was a non-starter, and tells Bartlet not to worry. He says he has a budget meeting (President Bartlet says he has a security briefing), and heads to his office...

...where Jordan is waiting for him. Leo yells at Margaret for letting Jordan in without his knowing about it. Jordan is upset Leo walked out on her, and tries to point out a non-binding resolution (which is what the censure is) has no force and effect. As she begins to list a number of such non-binding resolutions (a resolution in support of Little League Baseball, Ohio's state motto, and fostering friendship with the people of Mongolia), Leo tries to point out he has a meeting, and then snaps:

This isn't that! This is 535 Congressmen and Senators standing up and saying the President lied and should be ashamed of himself. And this is us standing up and saying you're right. This would be the first time in history a President has been censured. Congress isn't talk radio. It's the seat of democracy, their opinion matters and their condemnation doesn't have to come with handcuffs to be devastating to this President. That is the force and effect and it's not going to happen because of me.

Leo says again he has a meeting, and leaves.

Sam joins Toby in the White House mess, and asks how his chapters are going. Toby says he's fine with it. Sam takes that to mean he thinks what's in the book is true; Toby, however, while admitting almost none of what he's read is true, doesn't want to make a big deal out of it. Like Josh, he remembers Burkhalt as being a malcontent who wasn't talented or pleasant, and doesn't want to make Burkhalt seem more significant than he actually was. Sam points out in the book, Burkhalt claims he and Toby were sent out of the office to write an intro for a Teacher of the Year ceremony while the rest of the staff stayed behind for a serious discussion on Latin America, and it simply isn't true (they left voluntarily to work on a major education address rather than stay while White House operators tried to connect with the President of Ecuador, who only wanted to complain once more about the banana crisis), so he wants Burkhalt discredited. Sam leaves, and Toby heads to the Oval Office. Charlie tells Toby Bartlet will be ready for him in a minute.

Charlie tells Toby to go in. Toby greets President Bartlet, who's just ending a budget meeting. As the others leave, Toby brings up the book, which he dismisses as "science fiction". Bartlet shows him the map Charlie bought, but Toby thinks Bartlet shouldn't hang it in the outer office because it doesn't have Israel on it, which will offend some people. Bartlet points out the map comes from way before the time Israel even existed, but Toby says it doesn't matter. He then brings up the fact Bartlet's favorite movie was on the other night (though they never name it, it's clear the movie is The Lion in Winter), and Toby brings up the scene that was playing when he turned it on, where Geoffrey says, "As if it matters how a man falls down," and Richard replies, "When the fall is all that's left, it matters a great deal." Both Toby and Bartlet say the line together, and Bartlet asks if Toby is trying to tell him something. Toby says he isn't, and leaves.

Josh is at Donna's desk when she gets a call for Josh from Amy. Josh runs into his office and takes the call. She's at the gym, and says her office got a message from him. Josh tells her they need to talk about paid family leave in person. Amy says she has a date, but they can meet for a late dinner at 11 pm.

Outside Leo's office, Margaret updates him on his schedule, and then tells him Jordan's still inside his office. Sure enough, when Leo enters, he sees Jordan, who's continuing to bring up the non-binding resolutions Congress has passed. She also points out if the hearings continue, Leo may not have his job anymore, and leaves.

Donna is at her desk when Carol walks by (C.J.'s still there). She asks Carol if it's started snowing (they're supposed to get 18 inches), and tells Josh it's 10:45. Josh wishes them a good night and leaves. Donna gets a call from Cliff, who says he needs to speak with her right away. Donna says she can't talk to him; Cliff points out she won't be any trouble, and tells her to meet him in 20 minutes at the Georgetown Law Library, in the Federal Case Law section. Donna says again it doesn't feel right, but Cliff has hung up.

C.J. meets President Bartlet in the Oval Office, and brings up the book, which has a passage describing how Bartlet read a book to find out how to get a son after having two daughters. Bartlet, of course, doesn't take it seriously, telling C.J. all a father wants is 10 fingers and 10 toes. He brings up the map, and C.J. also tells him he can't hang it in the West Wing, which Bartlet again can't believe. He says he'll put it up in the Presidential limo.

At the Georgetown Law Library, Cliff thanks Donna for coming, and says he needs to meet with Josh right away; he's fine with a phone conversation, but it needs to happen now. Donna wonders if this is why his office has been calling all day, and Cliff points out if Josh had answered the calls before, they wouldn't need to meet like this. He assures Donna he's only trying to help Leo, but can't say why. Donna realizes Cliff was the reason why the hearings were recessed, and tells Cliff to wait by his phone.

Josh is at the bar at the Ritz-Carlton hotel when Amy appears. He asks how the ballet was, and Amy figures out Josh doesn't like ballet. After Josh orders a drink, Amy asks what he wanted to talk about. Josh brings up paid family leave. Amy points out the council was okay with not going for it right away, because they didn't have the legislative capital to do so, and wants to know why he's talking to her instead of getting it done. Josh tells her they've approved a study, but they're going to spend half a million less than was originally budgeted for the study. Amy realizes the whole meeting was a smoke screen just so Josh could see her again, and is both amused and annoyed he can't just ask her out like a regular person. Josh and Amy start to snark at each other, which is interrupted by Donna calling him and telling him about Cliff. Josh wants to know why Donna was talking to Cliff, but agrees to the meeting. He hangs up, apologizes to Amy, and leaves.

In the Oval Office, Bartlet asks Sam how the State of the Union speech is going. Sam says it's going okay so far, but he wants to talk about the book. Sam brings up the fact Burkhalt claimed President Bartlet never did a poll on foreign policy, even though at the first meeting Bartlet had with the joint chiefs, he lectured them on bloated Pentagon spending and claimed 73% of the public backed him on that. President Bartlet doesn't remember if he did a poll or not, and asks why it's important. Sam replies, "I don't think it's such a good idea to be casual about the truth". Bartlet says he agrees, and Sam leaves, as Bartlet sits at his desk, pondering.

Josh joins Leo in the White House mess, and asks him about the deal Cliff proposed. Leo tells Josh to keep his voice down; Josh says it is down, and he's not pressuring Leo to say yes, he just wants to know why Leo says no. Josh points out it ends things and won't be a thing during the primaries. Leo points out it won't end things, and it'll go down in history. He also brings up Andrew Jackson getting censured over the U.S. Bank. Josh points out he didn't know that, and history will forget. Leo says Bartlet won't. Josh leaves.

Toby is in C.J.'s office, telling her about a basketball player named McDeere who went 1 for 23 from the field. C.J. wants to know why Toby isn't working, and he replies he can't rush these things. Sam comes by, and tells them President Bartlet didn't remember doing the poll. Toby says he doesn't remember it either. Sam wants to know why he's the only one taking it seriously, and Toby thinks that's a fair question. Toby wants to know if Sam is being like this because he was the one who hired Burkhalt; Sam points out it isn't just that, but because the press and the people are going to make him out to be legitimate, to say nothing of their enemies, and Burkhalt needs to be a joke so they won't become one. C.J. tells him to calm down (by singing West Side Story, and says they're going to get in the game (C.J. will talk to the editors of the major papers, but (1) they can't bother refuting every ridiculous charge because there are too many of them, and (2) she doesn't want to give Burkhalt the weight of the White House, and they should make clear the White House was too busy doing their jobs to take the book seriously. C.J. also guesses what's really bothering Sam, and says while they don't know what's going on with the hearings, they'll find out when someone wants them to find out, and Sam shouldn't fixate on knuckle-headed stuff he thinks he can fix. Toby says Josh is inside, and brings up the fact McDeere made 8 free throws in as many attempts, and the other team shouldn't have bothered fouling him at all if he was 1 for 23. Sam tells the others it's started to snow.

Josh finds Amy waiting on the stoop of his apartment. He apologizes again for leaving, and tells her he can't say why. She asks why he didn't talk to her when they were in college together, and in addition to pointing out she was sleeping with someone else, he admits he wanted to be in politics all his life, but he needed to work harder and study harder than everyone else because he wasn't the smartest kid in class. Josh admits this meant he didn't really know how to talk to women, and says again he wouldn't have left her at the hotel if it wasn't important. Amy interrupts Josh by kissing him. She thanks him for the drink.

Leo goes into the Oval Office. President Bartlet tells him he's been meeting with Oliver Babish, the Chairman, and the Speaker. Leo is upset, but Bartlet says he's going to accept the censure. Leo points out it doesn't get Abbey off the hook, it hurts Congressional Democrats up for re-election, it's still a weight around their necks, Bartlet still has MS, and he shouldn't be doing it to get Leo off the hook. Bartlet says he isn't;

I was wrong. I was. I was just...I was wrong. Come on, you know that. Lots of times we don't know what right or wrong is but lots of times we do and come on, this is one. I may not have had sinister intent at the outset but there were plenty of opportunities for me to make it right. No one in government takes responsibility for anything anymore. We foster, we obfuscate, we rationalize. "Everybody does it." That's what we say. So we come to occupy a moral safe house where everyone's to blame so no one's guilty. I'm to blame. I was wrong.

Bartlet says he'll go down in history; Leo says he forgot until Josh pointed out Andrew Jackson also was censured, though Bartlet points out he got his record expunged two years later. Bartlet brings up the map again, and Leo becomes the latest to tell him hanging a map of the Middle East without Israel on it is a bad idea. Bartlet thinks everyone's crazy. He says they should just sit in the office for a second, and as they do, we hear in a voice-over the House Secretary reading H. Con-172.

This episode contains examples of:

  • Author Appeal / Self-Plagiarism: Aaron Sorkin is a fan of The Lion in Winter, and also used "When the fall is all that's left, it matters a great deal" in the first season finale of Sports Night.
  • Call-Back: Josh mentions to Toby about seeing Amy Gardener in "The Woman of Qumar", two episodes earlier.
  • Critical Research Failure: An in-universe example. Leo erroneously states that this would be "the first time a president has ever been censured". In actuality, as Josh points out, Andrew Jackson was censured in 1834 for withholding documents pertinent to his defunding of the Federal Bank. And as Bartlet later points out, it was later rescinded in 1837.
  • Department of Redundancy Department:
    Josh: Have you read it?
    Sam: Bits and pieces.
    Josh: How is it?
    Sam: I'm going to set up a war room downstairs.
    Josh: It's serious?
    Sam: Yeah. (drops a pile of documents on the desk)
    C.J.: (raising her head from the table) I'm up!
    (Sam tells everyone the title of the book)
    C.J.: Have you read it?
    Sam: Bits and pieces.
    C.J.: How is it?
    Sam: I'm going to set up a war room downstairs.
    C.J.: It's serious?
    C.J. [Sheepish] I'm up...
  • Hypocritical Humor: Josh, on approaching Amy Gardner to ask her out:
    Josh: Well, I'm a straight shooter. I think my record's pretty clear on that. I'd like to see her again.
    Toby: ... Call her.
    Josh: And ask her out?
    Toby: Yeah.
    Josh: No, no, because there's the potential she says "no" and then I have to move some place where it'll never be spoken of again. I need to come in under the cover of business.
    Toby: ... Because you're a straight shooter.
    Josh: Yeah!
  • Oh God, with the Verbing!: Right before Amy gives Josh a "Shut Up" Kiss, she says to him, "You know what? Maybe not so much for you with the talking."
  • Only Sane Man: In the subplot of the antique map, Bartlet considers himself this because of his exasperation at how everyone believes that hanging it in the West Wing will insult supporters of Israel because the map doesn't recognise it's existence, despite the fact that it was drawn up about 250 years before Israel existed.
  • Political Correctness Gone Mad: Bartlet considers everyone's refusal to let him hang his map up in the West Wing because "it doesn't recognise Israel" to be this.
  • Quizzical Tilt: C.J. does this after hearing the book excerpt about Toby and President Bartlet playing golf.
  • Serious Business: The tell-all book that Sam is obsessed with denouncing. Nobody except Sam thinks it's worth worrying about, since the "revelations" in it are ridiculous and the author is just a bitter idiot who was fired from the White House for incompetence.
    • Everyone except Bartlet argues that hanging a map of the Middle East that doesn't include Israel is a bad idea, because it could offend supporters of Israel. Since the map was drawn centuries before Israel even existed, Bartlet is exasperated by this.
  • Shout-Out: In addition to those listed above, Donna tells Cliff she can't be Deep Throat-ing.
  • Streisand Effect: Discussed in-universe regarding the book that Sam is obsessed with rebutting; when trying to convince Sam to calm down and back off a bit over it, C.J. points out that if the White House reacts with a passionate denunciation and fact-checking rebuttal of every single falsehood, it's just going to get more people interested and draw more attention to it. Conversely, if the White House reacts with a simple shrug of disinterest and moves on, people are going to realise it's mostly bullshit and it'll disappear quicker.
  • Those Two Guys: Yes, this is the episode where Bartlet apologizes, but more importantly than that, this is finally the episode where Aaron Sorkin answered the question driving many viewers crazy:
    Sam: What we're doing is making note of anything big or small that's wrong. Anything I can use to attack credibility.
    Ed: Okay, well right away I see one.
    Sam: What?
    Larry: (as he and Ed trade folders) I'm Larry, he's Ed.
  • Waxing Lyrical: When C.J. is trying to get Sam to calm down, she sings part of the lyrics to "Cool".
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