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Episode 1x20: Mandatory Minimums

Read the Transcript Here

IMDb Blurb:
A newly energized administration prepares to take on soft money, increase addiction treatment, and remove mandatory minimum sentencing.


Summary:Sheraton Centre Hotel, Washington D.C.

The President is addressing a black tie dinner, decrying mandatory minimum sentencing, term limits, and similar assumptions about hte lack of trust in people to do what's right.

In the press room, C.J. warns the assembled correspondents that the President is about to say something that will rile them all up. She'll brief them when they get back to the White House.
Reporter: C.J. what is this? What's going on tonight?
C.J.: The President is throwing his cap over the wall.
Reporter: What does that mean?
C.J.: You're about to find out.
The President announces that he's going to nominate John Bacon and Patricia Calhoun to the Federal Election Commission, two financial reformers.

On the Hill, the Republican Senate Majority Leader is watching the speech, and upon learning from Steve Onorato, his aide, who the President is nominating, goes ballistic. The aide met with Josh the week before, there were threats leveled. The White House knew that if they put the reformers on the F.E.C. the Majority Leader would roll out a legislative agenda in direct opposition to everything that President Bartlet stands for.

Josh is at the hotel watching the speech.
Sam: You're about to get a call.
Josh: Yeah.
Sam: Big call.
Josh: Yeah.
Sam: Powerful guy. I'm just sayin', you're probably rocked back from the meeting last week.
Josh: A little.
Sam: They threatened you with a legislative agenda.
Josh: Yeah.
Sam: They made you feel powerless and you're a little off your game.
Josh: Yeah.
Sam: A little gun shy.
Toby: Leave him alone.
Sam: I'm bucking him up.

Toby: Leave him alone.

Sam: You asked me to buck him up.
Toby: Now I'm telling you to leave him alone.
Josh: Guys, I'm trying to watch the speech.
Donna: Josh?
Josh: The call?
Donna: On the cell. (Hands him a phone.)
Toby: Josh, you need us, we're standing right here.
Josh: Okay. (Takes phone.) Hi, Senator. Why don't you take your legislative agenda and shove it up your ass. (Turns back to Sam and Toby) Turns out I was fine. (Tosses phone casually to Donna.)

Cue credits.

At the White House, reporters are clamoring for C.J. In the past, the President merely signed off on the F.E.C. commissioners who were recommended by the congressional leadership, even though its within the President's right to appoint whomever he chooses. The White House didn't tell anyone on the Hill that the announcement of the nominations was going to happen during the speech. She rebuffs the press suggestion that the White House is declaring war on Congress. She says that it's more of a police action.

Toby is hiring Al Kiefer (see: 20 Hours in L.A.) to do some polling. Kiefer is bringing Joey Lucas as a California expert. Josh declares to Donna that it's no big deal, because he's a pro. He declares it twice, in fact, just to be sure.

The first hit back on the Republicans' agenda will be a bill to make English the official national language. They'll need Hispanic support if they want the bill to pass, California has a large Hispanic population, which is why they need a California expert on their side. Once more Josh has to declaim that it's not a big deal to bring in Joey Lucas, he's only met her twice. Sam helpfully points out that's true, but one of those times, she broke Josh's heart. Oh, Sam.

C.J. invites a junior White House correspondent from the Post for an exclusive follow-up to the briefing. The correspondent says "no, she wants Danny," who is sitting in the seat directly behind. "No, she wants you," Danny tells him, and off the junior correspondent goes, completely confused. If looks could kill, the glare Danny sends C.J. would get him life in the Federal pokey.

Tuesday Morning

Sam and Toby are walking along a tree-lined street. Sam is arguing against mandatory minimums, and Toby is agreeing, and putting Sam in charge of briefing the President, but only in the sense that Sam will tell the President exactly what Toby wants him to hear, namely that the focus should be on treatment for those arrested for drug possession, not incarceration.

At a cafe, Leo and Margaret are preparing for a breakfast meeting, presumably with Senior Staff. Margaret fiddles with pencils (as Pink Martini plays in the background, I love this show's use of music) as Leo stares and teases. Josh and Donna arrive, Josh snarking about the out of the way location. Leo was hungry! Josh is dressed up. He says its his regular Tuesday suit, Donna says it's his Joey Lucas suit. But it's no big deal.

Sam and Toby arrive. Toby says that they're ready to go on treatment versus enforcement. Sam also wants to tackle the sentencing disparities between crack and powder cocaine. One thing at a time, Leo cautions -- just what Toby told him. Leo gets a call, and recites a list of names to Margaret. There's more palaver about Josh's suit and Leo gets frustrated.
Leo: My point is, we have to make it through the week without making any mistakes.
Josh: We will.
Leo: I'm saying that this is...
Josh: I'm saying calm down.
Leo: I'm perfectly calm!
Sam: You're not calm, Leo. You're acting like a nervous hooleelia.
Toby: A what?
Sam: It may not be a word. It may just be something my mother used to say.

Al Kiefer is giving a doom and gloom prognostication to the President. He's going to be smacked down in the midterms, haunted going into re-election, maybe he won't even be renominated, he's got a negative approval rating and it is not the time to come out for drug legalization. The thing is, Bartlet isn't coming out for drug legalization.

C.J. tells Mandy that she's not welcome in the meetings with the President because of the strategy memo she wrote. She stomps off angrily.

Kiefer continues to put the worst possible spin on the new initiative the White House is planning, which is to reverse the ratio of spending on drug law enforcement to drug treatment programs from 2:1 to 1:2. The president is amused that it took Kiefer a whole 45 minutes to raise the spectre of children shooting up drugs on playgrounds.

Charlie pulls Josh out of the meeting. Joey has arrived. Charlie offers to help Josh out with Joey, in thanks for all Josh has done for him. Joey, he notes, repeatedly, is a "fine looking woman." Josh denies a need for any help. Oh, Josh.

Josh is all crisp and businesslike with Joey, which she objects to. Josh doesn't even ask how she is or how her flight was. Josh tries to cover by saying that the White House is in "a bit of a mode" and it's not like she should expect candy and flowers upon arrival. Just then, Margaret comes and hands Joey flowers as a welcome gift from Leo. Josh continues to be an ass, warning Joey not to decorate her desk with hand lotion. Idiot. (Joey, for her part, is bemused. Smart woman.) As Josh departs, she follows him around the corner, and the voice of Kenny (her interpreter) rings out "I'm not sleeping with Al Kiefer any more!" Josh gets assier, telling her that this is a place where work is done, and nothing else! ((Fibber!) As he turns to leave again, Joey calls after him: "Nice suit!"

Josh grabs Leo and Toby from the meeting with a new crisis: C.J. said in the previous evening's press briefing that the President nominated a Democrat and a Republican for the F.E.C. (rather than two Democrats) even though he was under no legal obligation to do so. Turns out, he is legally obligated to do so. This is the kind of mistake Leo needs the White House to avoid this week, but C.J. will handle it. They turn to Toby:
Josh: We want you to go to a meeting.
Toby: With who?
Josh: A prominent House Democrat who has a voice on campaign finance reform and if it was someone on the Ethics Committee that'd be even better, 'cause then she could answer some of Leo's questions.
Toby: I used to be married to someone who fits that description.
Leo: I set up lunch for the two of you.
Toby: You set me up on a date with my ex-wife?
Leo: Yeah. Let her know that the President's not going to ask Democrats to unilaterally drop soft money.
Josh: Make that clear.
Leo: And also take her temperature on the ethics thing.
Toby: (Eyeing them both warily.) Okay...
Toby departs, and Josh has to sneer at Leo a bit about the flowers. Leo ruined his patter, man! He leaves and Leo beckons Margaret. She rattles off the list of names that Leo asked her to note earlier. They're each to send a representative to the Press Briefing Room at 2 p.m. that afternoon. Margaret's curious what they have in common, but Leo isn't telling.

Josh goes back to Joey, insufferably still prattling on about the office decor topic just because he can. Finally he sits and gets down to business. He briefs her on her mission. But Toby already did that. Her alarm clock rings and she leaves him sitting there. It's lunchtime.

Back in the Oval, Sam and Toby continue to make the case for increased drug treatment while Al Kiefer continues to push back hard. He can't sell it, he says. People don't buy science.

Steve Onorato, the aide to the Senate Majority Leader, comes to see Sam. Sam tries to wave him off to Josh, but Onorato forces Sam to have lunch with him, saying that Josh is off his game.

At the Reflecting Pool, Congresswoman Andy Wyatt lounges and eats on a blanket on the ground, but she can't quite get her ex-husband -- Toby -- to join her. She can't even entice him with pie. She argues, like Sam, that mandatory minimums and sentencing disparities are one big problem, and shouldn't be dealt with separately. Toby grows increasingly frustrated, she takes that completely in her stride with a smile on her face. She gives the ethical okay on whatever it is Leo is going to do at 2 p.m. and says she wants to be there "for fun." Toby grows even more frustrated, this is a serious thing, it's not fun! But she can be there. She decides to bring her pie.

Onorato lays it on the line with Sam: if the President moves forward with his F.E.C. nominees, the White House will get nowhere on the Hill to enact new drug policy.
Onorato: You can have all the strategy sessions you want. No one you need is gonna take your phone call. And you, Sam, can go back to writing speeches for when the President meets the Girl Scout who sells the most cupcakes.
Cathy: (Knocks on door, interrupting.) Sam?
Sam: Cookies.
Onorato: Huh?
Sam: Girl Scouts sell cookies, not cupcakes. And it was a pretty good speech I wrote, it was about volunteerism.
Onorato: (Sarcastically) Well, keep up the good work, Sam!
Sam: (As he leaves, disgusted.) I will.

C.J. comes to get Leo. His folks are in the Press Room, the press are being held in the lobby and told that a special event is happening. As they walk, he gives her a dressing down for the "no legal obligation" mistake. She is duly chastened. Then Danny Concannon shows up, castigating her for pulling the junior correspondent in for the exclusive. It was bush league, he complains. C.J. pulls him into the office and lays into him. Leo's her boss, he can call her amateur if he needs to but Danny Concannon cannot talk to her that way in front of other people. Go C.J.! Danny's out in the cold for publishing a story about Mandy's memo and it's going to stay that way until C.J. says otherwise, and he can just suck it up and deal.

In the Press Room, Leo puts the screws to the aides of seven members of Congress. Each of their bosses, the aides are told, are opposed to increasing funding for drug treatment, and wish to increase funding for enforcement and prison time instead. All are in favor of mandatory minimums for drug offenses. And yet each has an immediate family member who benefitted from their money, influence or position to get a sweetheart deal when they were arrested for drug possession. If these members of Congress start with the "soft on drugs" soundbites, Leo warns, there will be seven front page stories ready to go. And if the aides disbelieve him, look, the doors are being opened and the press are being allowed back into the Press Room, where they'll see each aide and will be able to figure out what's up.

Andy tells Toby, as they leave, that on a recent date, her companion had a little fender bender and the police officer decided not to test him for alcohol (he'd had some wine) because he recognized her. The date is an executive for the Orioles. Toby points out that she didn't use her influence, so it's okay, but he's not sure why she's dating someone who works for the Orioles. She asks if he's mad that she's dating, or mad that she's dating someone whose team plays against the Yankees. He's unsure. He tells her that he'd come get her if her date had been drinking... so long as he didn't work for the Orioles. Or Red Sox. Yankee loyalty runs deep. He also mugs her for the pie.

Later that night, Leo wakes the President to brief him on the day. Back in the West Wing, Charlie informs Josh that Joey is still working in her office. He advises Josh to give her a gift as a welcome on the first day, reminding him that she is, in fact, a fine looking woman. Charlie leaves, Toby and Sam come in. and Sam reports on his lunch with Onorato. Toby and Josh understand why Onorato was leaning on Sam immediately -- he knows about Laurie. They're trying to make Sam visible as a player at the White House so that they can discredit him over his relationship with a call girl. Sam is irate, Josh and Toby are amused at the politics as usual. Sam and Toby go off to find Leo, Josh goes to find Joey. He awkwardly gives her a White House coffee mug, then asks Kenny to leave. He admits to Joey that he wore his suit specially for her. She seems oddly pleased.

Leo is sitting on a chair while the President lounges in bed. He's going on about his reservations about taking such a hard line on drugs after announcing that he's an addict himself. The President, half asleep, points out that Leo is the perfect person to talk about the benefits of rehab over incarceration.

C.J. shows up at the President's bedroom. She apologizes for the briefing gaffe. The President suggests that they just move on, it's fixed and done with. Sam arrives, with Toby hard on his heels. (The President can get no privacy, come on folks, he's in his pyjamas!) Sam ridiculously announces how pleased he is that the President had managed to get to sleep early.
President Bartlet: Guys, let me tell what I would like to have happen right now.
Josh: (Strolls in with oblivious exuberance) Good evening, Mr. President!
President Bartlet: Josh walking in the door wasn't even close.
Josh: How ya doin' tonight?
President Bartlet: I'm fine, thanks, Josh. How you doing?
Josh: Good! I uh, gave Joey Lucas a coffee mug. She doesn't know anybody here and, uh, she's already working hard. She's very committed. I think I did the right thing.
President Bartlet: See, the part I don't understand is I got like 24 armed guards right outside my bedroom door...
The President gives them a pep talk, tells them all to keep on with what they're doing. They'll make mistakes, but they'll fix them. It's all working. He's not worried about the future, he just wants them to do the best that they can right now. And to let Mandy and Danny out of the doghouse for doing their jobs. Before Toby leaves, the President tells him that he's ready to tackle mandatory minimums and sentencing disparities together. He tells Leo that yes, he can sell it.

Questions:
  1. Would you agree that this is one of the finer episodes for the women in the cast (and guest star) compared to the previous efforts of this season?
  2. Josh was in fine Lymanian form (take that as you will) but did it seem that Sam was well off of his game, especially in missing Steve Onorato's obvious baiting?
  3. Leo's stunt with the congressional aides and the press: cynical ploy, or brilliant political strategy?
  4. Okay, really, if you were Joey Lucas, what would you have said to Josh and his hand lotions and special suit?
  5. Can the President get a little daggone peace and quiet, for cripes sake?

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