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Recap / The West Wing S 05 E 08 Shutdown

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At a meeting to agree upon a third continuing resolution for the budget while negotiations continue, Speaker of the House Jeff Haffley throws the President and his staff an unexpected curve-ball when, out of nowhere, he rejects the previously-agreed upon cuts of one percent to all government funding and instead demands three percent cuts. President Bartlet refuses to comply, and when warned that the failure to pass the continuing resolution means that the government will shut down at midnight that night, his only response is:


Bartlet: Then shut it down.

As Haffley gleefully leads the Republican leadership in denouncing Bartlet to the press for ending negotiations and causing the shutdown, Leo orders all non-essential White House staff — including Donna — to cease work and go home. As the shut-down is framed by the Republicans and the media as the White House's fault, the President's approval ratings begin to plummet as the public turn against him. Privately, the White House senior staff begin to fear that Bartlet has collapsed under the strain of recent events and begin to negotiate a compromise agreement without the President's knowledge. Josh argues that the President instead needs to remain firm and demonstrate that he won't be bullied by Congress, but since he is still in Leo's bad books after events in previous episodes he is excluded from the discussions.


The President's approval ratings continue to slip and further embarrassment looms in an approaching State Dinner with the British Prime Minister, which will be heavily impacted by the shutdown. Vice President Russell offers to begin negotiating with Congress. The media begins to frame Speaker Haffley as the true leader of the government, and Bartlet as powerless. Without telling the President, the senior staff agree to accept Haffley's original terms of three percent cuts in government funding for a continuing resolution, but when Bartlet learns this he refuses to accept the deal, prolonging the shutdown further. Donna, secretly working from home, informs Josh that social security payments are at risk from the shutdown and urges Josh to join the negotiations, but Josh stubbornly refuses, waiting for Leo to approach him.


In order to break the President out of his funk, Leo calls Abbey Bartlet back from her self-imposed exile from Washington to counsel Bartlet. Abbey notices that Josh is absent from the negotiations, and Bartlet orders Leo to bring Josh back into the fold. During a conversation about the President, Toby dismissively suggests that the President and Josh are the only two people present who don't understand the gravity of the situation and that they've lost, but C.J unexpectedly disagrees. She suggests that the White House senior staff have been so concerned with protecting the President and walking on eggshells around him following the kidnapping of Zoe Bartlet that they haven't realised that the President is in fact the only one showing signs of leadership in this situation, while everyone else is merely folding to the Speaker's demands.

Josh refuses to concede to Leo's demands that he join the unified front demanding that the President accept Congress's terms, and when the President comes down to the meeting he suggests a radical course of action — that the President travel to Congress to negotiate directly with Speaker Haffley and the Republican leadership. Although everyone else argues that will be interpreted as a sign of weakness, the President agrees. In the motorcade, Josh and Angela Blake argue about the decision; Angela points out that the Speaker has been in control of the situation since the beginning, while Josh counters that it's because Haffley's every move has surprised them, while nothing that the White House has done has surprised him.

As the motorcade passes a tour-bus outside the National Archives, which have been closed due to the shut-down, Bartlet orders it to pull over. He gets out his car and approaches the tour-bus, speaking with the stranded tourists and charming them with his friendly, down-to-earth manner. The situation gives Josh an idea; as the Capitol Building is only a few minutes away, he convinces Bartlet to walk the rest of the way, further cementing his humility in the eyes of the public. The media coverage this receives throws the Republican leadership off-guard, and when Bartlet arrives to see Speaker Haffley he is surprised when the Speaker refuses to see him right away. Although Senate Leader Robert Royce argues that they can't keep the President waiting, Speaker Haffley refuses to see the President until the Republican negotiating position has been finalised. This means that Bartlet is kept waiting in the corridor for seven minutes, and although Angela views it as a disaster Josh sees it as an opportunity; he advises the President to leave, meaning that when the Republican leadership eventually emerges the President has gone.

Public mood begins to turn against the Republicans and Congress. The President's actions have demonstrated him to be humble and willing to negotiate in the face of the public suffering during the shutdown, while the Speaker's snub of the President suggests the Republican leadership to be more interested in playing politics than ending the shutdown. Further public humiliation for the President is averted when it is announced that the State Dinner for the British Prime Minister will instead be held as an intimate get-together between President Bartlet, Abbey Bartlet, the Prime Minister and his wife rather than an elaborate banquet, with Abbey serving a home-cooked Coronation Chicken as the meal. With no more cards left to play, Speaker Haffley thus has no choice to approach the President to reopen negotiations.

The meeting begins cordially, but tense. An argument about the respective roles of the President and Congress turns heated, however, with Haffley denouncing the out-of-control spending of the American government. The argument becomes increasingly hostile, until Bartlet angrily informs the Speaker that he is still the President of the United States and he has no intention of negotiating with someone who attempts to bully him to accepting unreasonable terms:

Bartlet: We're not doing another CR, Mr. Speaker.
Haffley: This room [the Oval Office] was designed to throw people off-balance. Wyeth's intent was to inspire the English notion of...
Bartlet: [interrupting] To remind guests that this is the office of the President of the United States, and that the person on this side of the desk [gestures to himself] is the President.
Haffley: Historically, the Commander-in-chief's purview is foreign policy, while Congress attended to their constituents at home. That's why the Constitution put Congress in charge of the budget.
Bartlet: And gave the President the veto. Fortunately, your Congress put together a budget. I understand more than 2000 people worked with interest groups, unions, industry, and 535 elected officials to arrive at that 15,000 page document over there. All 14 appropriations bills, exactly as we left them four days ago. It took us what, ten months to work out our differences on those bills.
Haffley: We still haven't cut enough spending.
Bartlet: I agree. I want you to cut agriculture subsidies, and you want me to cut Medicaid, again. You know I'll veto any Medicaid cuts, and I know you won't give me any agriculture cuts. So, here we are.
Haffley: Then we're back to a continuing resolution, sir, which I can probably pass with a two percent...
Bartlet: No. We were 100 billion apart, and I met you halfway, at 50 billion. Then we were 50 billion apart, and I suspect if I'd gone down to 25, we'd be 12 billion apart.
Hafflet: [Cynically] A billion here, a billion there. We dole it out like candy to children. Welfare paternalism, regulation, taxes, and quotas are why people can't find jobs.
Bartlet: This administration has created the greatest amount of wealth in history.
Haffley: Which is a testament to the resilience of the American spirit! Not Washington bureaucrats.
Bartlet: [Heated] Not everyone can pull themselves up by their bootstraps, Mr. Speaker.
Haffley: I couldn't agree more. But the solution is for government to get off of people's backs! We could give every student in America 10,000 dollars a year, but instead, we fund the Department of Education.
Bartlet: [angry] You're not going to demonize the millions of selfless teachers and public servants who are...
Haffley: They're trapped in failed system! I can't stand by...
Bartlet: [Yelling] Well, I'm not going to negotiate with anyone who holds a gun to my head! We had a deal! I don't care if my approval ratings drop into single digits. I am the President of the United States and I will leave this government shut down until we reach an equitable agreement!

After almost two hours of discussions, Speaker Haffley leaves, and the President announces to the senior staff that the budget will finally be passed.

Provides examples of:

  • Artistic License – Law: Of US Law. Haffley is trying to shift the blame for the shutdown onto the White House as if the White House would be responsible for it. A government shutdown is due to a lack of funding and the funding of the federal government is the sole responsibility of Congress. And while the President can disagree on the bill in question for the budget, that doesn't necessarily mean that the President is responsible for the shutdown. But Haffley is playing up Bartlet's disagreement just to play politics.
  • He’s Back: For Bartlet after the fallout from Zoey's kidnapping.
  • Hypocrite: Haffley told the president that there would be no altering the deal he presented for them, pretty much immediately after he himself altered it.
  • Rule of Symbolism: At several points throughout the episode, characters complain of catching a cold that's been travelling around. At the end of the episode, Haffley complains of catching the cold, symbolizing how his position has been weakened.
  • Smug Snake: Haffley. He comes close to being a Magnificent Bastard, but he spends more time gloating about the hit that the President is taking to his popularity rather than anticipating what next moves the President might back, meaning that he's unprepared when the President actually makes his next move. The situation blows up in his face soon after.

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