This episode opens with our Goddess, CJ Cregg, holding court with the press corps. Danny asks today’s million dollar question, “Has the president considered a lame duck session?” As Josh explains to Donna, CJ walked into the question – she can’t answer the question without implying he has in fact considered it.
As senior staff gathers in the hall, Josh and Sam run down why maybe a lame duck congress might make sense in order to ratify the test-ban treaty. The two of them play checkers with assorted politicians, setting up how they could pass this. The congress coming in is not Bartlet-friendly, and the test-ban treaty will not pass. CJ points out that the 106th Congress has been adjourned, and that 12 of them were voted out of office.
After the opening credits, the senior staff gathers in the oval office, with Leo and the president. They play out every possible scenario, and as voices rise, Bartlet asks Charlie for some aspirin, or perhaps a weapon of some kind.
Leo sets the wheels in motion to get a nose count on what the outcome of a vote might be.
Leo then ushers the Fab Four to his office, and lets them know a piece will appear in the Times tomorrow about how the president’s time is not being used effectively. He quotes, “The West Wing is run like a high school yearbook office,” and that he himself is compared to a substitute teacher. While the staff denies and defends, Leo lays some new ground rules. He informs them that before approaching the president, a two-page summary needs to be presented to Leo. The four scoff, and Sam confides in Toby,”I can’t unleash my full potential in a two page summary.” The senior staff is nothing if not verbose.
Toby plots who is speaking to whom, and he sets the goal of getting enough intended votes that they can tell the president he can seriously consider a lame duck session.
CJ starts the leak with Danny, after giving him a tongue lashing.
Donna starts in on Josh about the dangers of carpal tunnel and the new series of industry standards recommended by OSHA, but Charlie interrupts by telling Josh that Vasily Konanov, a Ukrainian reformer, is parked in the driveway, demanding to speak to the president.
Sam summons Ainsley, and takes a huge step by asking her if she can summarize his 22-page position paper into the two-page summary Leo’s requested. Ainsley bargains with Sam, and by the end of the conversation, Ainsley is meeting Sam in the lobby to go to the Hill for the meetings on the test-ban treaty.
Josh briefs Leo on the Konanov situation, and Leo charges Josh to dry him out and let him know he can’t see the president (Konanov is not an official of the Ukrainian government).
Toby is suffering through lunch in the hopes of securing two votes, but what he learns is that his nose count isn’t as firm as he thinks it is. Toby is concerned, and walks away before the food is served.
Donna approaches Leo on the new OSHA standards, and after telling her that the recommendations would cost $18 billion, he tells her, “type slower.” Ouch.
Toby briefs Leo on the lost votes, and they review the votes they may or may not have. Then Toby finds Konanov in his office, drunk and irate. Josh tries to explain to Konanov that there is protocol, and that he just can’t speak to the president.
On the Hill, Sam is wrapping up his fifth meeting, feeling for votes. As the last one ends in a nay, an aide named Peter makes a comment to Ainsley.
Peter: Ainsley, I’m surprised to see you here.
Peter: Before you were on Bartlet’s payroll, you were a pretty vocal opponent of the treaty.
Ainsley: It’s President Bartlet, I’m on the government payroll, and I believe that politics should stop at the water’s edge.
Ainsley: To be honest with you, I believe it should well before that, but it turns out there is no Santa Claus and Elvis isn’t cutting records anymore.
Aide: What is she saying?
Ainsley: See, I don’t think you think the treaty’s bad. I don’t think you think it’s good. I think you want to beat the White House.
Ainsley: You’re a schmuck, Peter.
Back at the White House, Leo finds Margaret typing with two fingers, following his recommendation to Donna. Classic Margaret, fully speaking her mind to Leo, and then following his directives anyway. Josh updates Leo on the Konanov situation, and Leo tells Josh how they are going to get the man what he wants. By having the president walk by and say hi, rather than arrange a formal meeting, they can appease Konanov and save face at the same time. Josh is somewhat surprised that this tactic is accepted and widely used, but I think he’s happy to have a solution to the situation.
Josh then reprimands Donna, noting that Leo is trying to run a country. Donna retorts, but then learns that Congress and the White House are exempt from OSHA regulations anyway. She’s appalled, and as she voices her distress, Josh tells her the next bit of news. Donna will be meeting with Konanov so that the president can interrupt them.
Sam and Ainsley return to the West Wing, and Sam summarizes to CJ. As they arrive at Sam’s office, Ainsley hands Sam his two-page summary. She waits patiently outside his door, indicating that something is up. Sam then summons her to his office, remarking, “You reversed my position.” Classic Ainsley.
Toby then meets Senator Marino, the lame duck senator from Pennsylvania in a bar, and he learns that this is the vote they’ve lost. This senator explains to Toby that he’s been voted out of office, and that he has to abstain from voting.When Toby returns to the West Wing, he walks into a tour group, and gives them a piece of his mind regarding the test ban treaty.
We find Sam and Ainsley talking about the position paper, and Ainsley once again proving her points.
CJ and Danny find themselves waiting to see the president. Danny has been granted access for a three part feature on the president, CJ’s against the idea. After the president tells Danny that the Post has had their heads up their asses and that he’s canceling his personal subscription, he tells him that CJ can give him whatever he needs. CJ and Danny speak briefly about their quasi-relationship. Danny’s been offered an editor’s job, but he won’t take it. He tells CJ he had no problem with a reporter dating the press secretary, CJ tells him she does have a problem with it. (They’re so close, yet so far.)
Donna is hosting Konanov when the president walks in. Konanov has an agenda to discuss, but the president reminds him that his State Department has to deal with the government of the Ukraine. Bartlet is the inspiring Bartlet, and I think Konanov sets back to the Ukraine with a renewed spirit.
Sam and Ainsley go to see Leo, and Sam briefs Leo on his newly decided position. Leo asks a few questions, and in the end, says yes. As they leave, Ainsley starts to see how the White House works. She realizes that she influenced Sam, Sam influenced Leo and Leo will tell the president what to do. She is clearly in awe.
The episode wraps up with Toby briefing the president on what he’s already learned – the senator from Pennsylvania is going to abstain from a vote. The president launches into why it’s really okay, even thought 82% of the public thinks the test-ban treaty is a good idea. Toby is clearly disappointed, but the president is upbeat. He invites Toby up for a cigar and chess. And thus wraps up another day in the West Wing.
One reply on “LadyGhosts of TV Past: TWW Ep. 2.06 “The Lame Duck Congress””
I always have a problem with this episode, because of the Konanov character. Maybe it’s because I see him as a stand-in for Lech Walesa (decade later and a different country, but still) the whole “Eastern Europeans are drunk womanizers” bit really rubs me the wrong way.