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"Previously on the West Wing" spoken by Toby

At a Bartlet family birthday, Penn and Teller (seemingly) burn an American flag in the White House, prompting a political and publicity nightmare. Aboard Air Force One, Bartlet is stricken by a paralyzing episode of MS. Josh is approached to run the Vice President's presidential campaign.



Toby and Josh are standing in the back of the room at Zoey's White House birthday party.  Josh is supposed to go and talk to Senator Arnold Vinick, who the President would like to appoint to the Ambassadorship to the UN.  At the front of the room, Penn and Teller are finishing their routine, in which they appear to burn an American flag.

Act I[]

Annabeth arrives for the morning gaggle with the press, giving them schedule updates for the President's planned trip to China.  She gets several questions about Penn and Teller, which she deflects.

In the Oval Office, senior staff are going over details with the President on the trip and the meetings with China's President.  The President is adamant about meeting alone with the leaders and actually accomplishing something in his last China Summit.  While discussing issues, the Surgeon General arrives, and the President makes a show of telling Millie Griffith that she is coming on the plane to China.

Josh is in a meeting with the Transportation Secretary, when he spots Leo walking by.  He excuses himself to go and talk to Leo about the President's choice of Vinick.  Leo tells Josh that the President wants Vinick. Josh is not happy with the choice but will do what has been asked of him.    Donna tells him that he has several meetings back-to-back, including one with her.

Annabeth comes to see C.J. to tell her that the Penn and Teller story has leaked and they need to address it.  Charlie points out that it was a magic trick, how do they know that they really burned a flag?  C.J. tells Annabeth to get Penn and Teller to release a statement right away so as to not distract from the China summit.

Back in the Oval, Kate, C.J., and Toby are continuing to brief the President on China issues.  C.J. gives the President something to sign, but he cannot grip the pen to sign his name.

Act II[]

The President arrives on Air Force One for the trip to China.  C.J. tells him they are getting Penn and Teller to release a statement that will hopefully end the flag issue.  On Air Force One, the plane is making its way to New Orleans to meet with shrimpers before heading to China.  The President tells C.J. that he's done being concerned about the flag issue.

Donna and Josh are talking as he is getting ready for his Vinick meeting, but Donna tells him C.J. had his meeting rescheduled.  Charlie tells him that C.J. wants him to deal with the Penn and Teller problem, and Annabeth tells him that Penn and Teller are coming to the White House that afternoon.  Will finds Josh to show him a statement the Vice President is planning to release on the flag burning.  Josh dismisses it and attempts to ignore Will, but goes to see the Vice President at Will's request.  Will and Josh talk about the Vice President and the upcoming race for the Democratic nomination.  Will (and the Vice President) offer Josh the full control of running the Russell campaign.

On the plane, the President is getting briefed on shrimp issues.

Act III[]

Josh is getting ready to leave for his meeting with Senator Vinick, when Donna gives him Penn and Teller's statement.  She reminds him that she wants to have a talk with him, but Josh is distracted reading the statement, which does not address if they burned a flag or not.  He goes to find Penn and Teller, who are still in the White House to demand they put out a statement that puts the flag issue to bed once and for all.

On Air Force One, C.J. notes the President is getting tired and ushers everyone out of the room and asks the President how he is feeling.  The President says he is fine, but to please send in Millie.  The two of them make small talk and the President admits to her that he can't feel his hands.  She comes over and examines him.

Josh arrives for his meeting with Senator Vinick.  The two talk about politics and Josh makes his pitch to make Vinick the UN Ambassador, but Vinick tells Josh he is announcing tomorrow that he is running for President.  Josh returns to the White House and finds Leo still working. Josh tells him about Vinick. Donna comes into to tell them that Governor Baker is on TV right now, announcing that he is not running for President.

Outside the President's office on Air Force One, Millie, Toby, and C.J. talk about what to do with the President's health.  C.J. directs the President to rest, but Toby comes in to tell the President that Baker's not running. C.J. pushes him out and tells the President to rest and get his strength back.

Josh and Leo talk about Vinick getting into the race with Baker staying out and what it means for the next presidential election.

Act IV[]

Josh is in his office watching Vinick's announcement. Vinick, in response to a question about the flag burning, stuns Josh with his very diplomatic response.  Donna comes in and tells Josh that he has a year to talk her out of voting for him.

On Air Force One, C.J. comes to wake the President to tell him he is needed for a developing situation on South Korea.  The President tells C.J. that he can't move: he is paralyzed.  They move the President to the bedroom, discussing their options on where they can land Air Force One.  The President declares they are going to China.  Senior Staff are discussing what they should do, when an agent comes for them.

Will comes to see Josh to again invite him to be a part of the Russell campaign.  Josh tells Will that he does care about who the next President will be, which is why he doesn't want it to be Bob Russell.

The President is sitting up at his desk and tells the staff that he has talked to the South Korean President and the crisis has been averted for now.  He tells the staff they are going on to China and that they are going to hold a briefing for the press on the plane, explaining what has happened.  An agent brings out a wheelchair for the President and he is placed in the chair.  The lights are turned on in the press cabin and the President wheels himself into the cabin to address the press.

Trivia / Goofs[]

  • Penn Teller Flag

    Penn and Teller performing their act.

    In one of their most thoughtful and politically charged tricks, Penn and Teller make a U.S. flag seem to disappear by wrapping it in a copy of the United States Bill of Rights, and apparently setting the flag on fire, so that "the flag is gone but the Bill of Rights remains." [1] In the episode, the flag remains missing, unlike in the stage version.  Penn is quick to point out that, as seen in their stage show, the flag-burning routine "is astonishingly patriotic." It includes his observations about the greatness of being able to perform such a trick in a free country and finally the flag not only reappears unscathed, but "up on the flag pole where it started, waving in the breeze." [2]
  • The title comes from the question that many people were asking: Was the President in the room at the time of the flag incident.
    • The phrase "In The Room" can be heard 12 times in this episode.
  • The pilot of Air Force One states that they would be flying close to the Hawaiian islands. International flights between the U.S. and China would not fly that close to Hawaii. Due to the curvature of the planet, flying over Canada and Alaska is a much quicker and more economic flight path.


Toby Ziegler: Did they just burn an American flag in the White House?
Josh Lyman: Uh huh.
Charlie Young: Anyway, she wants you to help out on the flag burning thing.
Josh Lyman: Instead of getting us a U.N. ambassador?
Charlie Young: Not instead of, just before. 27 Congressmen signed this letter demanding the President explain what happened.
Josh Lyman: The story's all over cable news.
Charlie Young: C.J.'s afraid it's gonna drown out coverage of the China trip. She needs you to...
Josh Lyman: Put out the fire? She actually say "put out the fire"? Tell me she said "put out the fire."
Will Bailey: Bob Russell might be the next President of the United States. You get in now, you can make him the candidate you want him to be. After that, we make him the President we need him to be.
Penn Jillette: What if we burned a flag, not in protest, but in celebration of the very freedoms that allow us to burn a flag - the freedoms that everyone who has ever worked in this magnificent building has pledged to preserve and protect?
Josh Lyman: Did you go to law school?
Penn Jillette: No, clown school.
Arnold Vinick The President can't give me the job I want.
Josh Lyman Which job?
Arnold Vinick His.
Leo McGarry: Ever see Arnie Vinick campaign, up close? He'll go into those high school gymnasiums in Iowa and New Hampshire and blow them all away. Shake every hand in the joint, kiss every baby, hug every widow on Social Security, and sound smarter and more honest than any Republican they've ever seen -- because he is. He could win in the early states, go into the South with some momentum, then... who knows what happens?
Josh Lyman: Republican who wins California wipes us out in the Electoral College.
Leo McGarry: Right.
Josh Lyman: He's not getting the nomination.
Leo McGarry: If he does, we've got no one who can beat him.
President Bartlet: This plane is going to China. That's a direct order from your Commander in Chief.



Special Appearance By[]

Special Guest Stars[]

Guest Starring[]



"The West Wing" In the Room (2004)
Penn burns flag on 'West Wing'
Penn and Teller