West Wing Wiki
West Wing Wiki

My IQ doesn't break the bank and I wanted to do this so I studied all the time. And I missed something or it's like I skipped a year 'cause I never learned what you do after you think you like somebody
—Josh to Amy Gardner[src]

Josh Lyman works as the Deputy White House Chief of Staff during the Bartlet Administration. Lyman later works as the campaign manager for Matt Santos and eventually takes a position as Chief of Staff during the Santos Administration.


Josh was born in October[1] 1961 (his age having been given as 38 in 1999)[2] to a Jewish family in Westport, Connecticut. His grandfather was held in the Nazi concentration camp, Auschwitz Birkenau, during World War II. His father, Noah Lyman, was a litigator and partner with Debevoise and Plimpton.[3] He had an older sister, Joanie, who died young in a house fire while babysitting him, and into adulthood Josh visited a psychologist about his survivor's guilt for fleeing the burning house.[4] He attended private school as a child.[5]

He attended Harvard University, where he worked at the Harvard Crimson, and Yale Law School, and he was a Fulbright Scholar. During his education he met Congressman Christopher Wick, with whom he was in a fraternity;[6] Amy Gardiner, who dated his roommate Chris;[7] Akhil Reed Amar,[8] Eric Hayden and Pam Sussman,[9] and possibly Danny Concannon, who recalls how Josh acted when he received his Fulbright Scholarship,[10] though in another episode Danny indicates he attended Notre Dame.[11]


Josh was the Floor Manager to the House Minority Whip and Chief of Staff to Congressman Earl Brennan,[12] and he served two years as a Legislative Director in the House of Representatives and two years as Floor Director in the Senate.[13] He worked in the Senate for three years in total.[14] He worked on several campaigns, once for a senate candidate[15] and in three primaries that his hand-picked candidates lost to Louise Thornton's candidates.[16]

Josh originally worked for Senator John Hoynes, the Democratic front-runner in 1998 Primaries, but they disagreed on strategy. He traveled to New Hampshire to see Governor Bartlet speak at the request of Leo McGarry, an old friend of Josh's father. Josh was impressed with Bartlet's authenticity and left Hoynes's campaign to work for Bartlet, and he recruited his close friend Sam Seaborn for the campaign.[17] Shortly before the New Hampshire primary, Josh found Donna Moss answering his phone in his office, and he hired her as his assistant. Donna was the one who told him his father died on the night of the Illinois Primary.[18]

As the White House Deputy Chief of Staff, Josh "runs the policy shop."[19] He is effective in accomplishing the President's agenda but heavy-handed, earning nicknames like "Rambo"[20] and "the 101st Senator."[1] For instance, he succeeds in bullying four out of five congressmen into changing their votes on 802, but offends them all and Vice President Hoynes has to step in to convince the last holdout.[21] Sam says he has a "world-class political mind,"[22] and Will Bailey says he has "the best mind in the party" after Leo.[23] Of the more than 1300 employees in the White House,[24] he oversees 1100.[25]

Josh was critically wounded after being shot by white supremacists in Rosslyn, Virginia.[17] Josh was rushed into emergency surgery and spent a substantial amount of time in the hospital.[26] After his return to work, his behavior becomes erratic, and Donna informs Leo, who brings in Stanley Keyworth after he yells at President Bartlet in the Oval Office. He is diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.[25]

Idaho Senator Chris Carrick is holding up military promotions until the White House agrees that a missile launcher that doesn't work should be built in his state, so Josh leaks his anonymous hold to the Idaho papers, forcing Carrick to drop it. Out of spite, he switches parties and has Josh deliver his letter of resignation to the President.[27] In the fallout, Democrats on the Hill no longer want to work with Josh, and Leo hands over his legislative portfolio to Angela Blake.[28] Blake is unable to negotiate a budget with hostile Republican leadership, and President Bartlet walks away from the table, causing a government shutdown. Abbey Bartlet returns and has Josh brought back into the inner circle, and he advises the President to turn the media against Speaker Jeff Haffley by walking to the Hill.[29]

He plays a key role in President Bartlet's three appointments to the United States Supreme Court. The double nomination of Evelyn Baker Lang and Christopher Mulready was his brainchild, and he personally persuaded Toby, key Democratic Senator Roland Pierce, and the President that the idea was not only feasible but the best move for the White House.[30]

He is impressed by Texas Congressman Matt Santos's deft politicking that gets the Patients' Bill of Rights passed,[31] and though he originally wanted Santos to run for a fourth term in the House, after Eric Baker announces he won't run in the Democratic primaries, he convinces Santos to run for president and presents him with a nine-step plan to win. Santos agrees only if Josh will be his campaign manager.[32] He was appointed Chief of Staff after Santos won the general election.


Josh had strong relationships with his colleagues, as well as with his family and Presidents Bartlet and Santos. He was in a relationship with Mandy Hampton, during the first Bartlet for America campaign. For several years spanning both of President Bartlet's terms, Josh had an on-again-off-again relationship with Democratic political operative Amy Gardner.

Josh's most significant relationship was with his assistant and later girlfriend Donnatella Moss.  The two shared palpable romantic and sexual tension for years before finally acting on their feelings in the final days of the 2006 presidential campaign.  He then took Donna with him on a vacation during the Santos transition.

Josh was treated like a "younger brother" by Toby Ziegler and C.J. Cregg;  inversely, Charlie Young treated Josh like a older brother, and Josh considered Leo McGarry and Josiah Bartlet as father figures. During his rant at God in the cathedral at the end of Season 2, Bartlet said of Josh, "That was my son!", speaking of the shooting.

Josh's relationship with Toby was strained by Josh leaving the White House, though the two made strides towards reconciliation after their feud came to a head during Toby's prosecution for the shuttle leak.  He leveraged his friendship with Sam in convincing him to come aboard as his deputy chief of staff in the Santos administration.  Josh tried to the do the same with C.J., but she opted to leave the White House after Bartlet's second term expired.





Josh Lyman: I want to be a comfort to my friends in tragedy. And I want to be able to celebrate with them in triumph. And for all the times in between, I just want to be able to look them in the eye
Josh Lyman: I'm just saying, if you were in an accident, I wouldn't stop for a beer
Donna Moss: If you were in an accident I wouldn't stop for red lights


  • When he was little, Josh wanted to be a (female) ballerina.
  • For the first two seasons of the West Wing, Josh wore his watch on his left wrist. However, from the West Wing Season 3 onwards, Josh begins wearing his watch on his right wrist instead. In response to a question asked during TWWW's Big Block of Cheese Day episode which aired on March 26, 2019, Bradley Whitford who portrays Josh said: "My dad was right-handed, but he broke his left arm when he got his first watch as a kid, and for the rest of his life he wore his watch on his right wrist. He was in the Navy on a minesweeper in the Pacific during World War II—he called it ‘The Big One’. The other guys noticed it and it became a good luck thing for them. Dad died on the Father’s Day after we shot the Pilot. It was a busy time, babies were coming and growing, and suddenly I was shooting every day; I didn’t have time to process his death at the time and it would wallop me in waves years down the line. I was missing him and so I moved it to my right wrist as kind of a memorial. Thanks for noticing my little Freudian forearm dance of paternal connection and separation. His name was George Whitford and he was a great dad, incredibly kind, and funny as hell".


  • The name "Josh Lyman" was first used in connection with the White House in the Garry Trudeau cartoon strip Doonesbury in 1993. The character was a White House media liaison officer working for President Bill Clinton, encountered by Doonesbury regular Joanie Caucus. Apart from the name and setting, there appears to be no other similarity with the West Wing character, although a framed copy of the strip hangs in Josh's office. Oddly (or perhaps not) Joanie is given as the name of Josh's sister.
  • Josh Lyman shares several similarities with former Obama White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, although he was long after the character's inception.
  • The role of Josh Lyman was written for Whitford, but when the network was unsure whether Lowe would sign on, Whitford was asked to play Sam, which he called Sorkin to deter.[33][34]


Josh Lyman/Gallery

Notes and references[]

Cabinet of President Matt Santos
Vice President   Eric Baker
Secretary of State   Arnold Vinick
Secretary of the Treasury   Rosenthal
Secretary of Defense   Swain
Attorney General   Oliver Babish
Secretary of Agriculture   Ed Keenitz
White House Chief of Staff   Josh Lyman
Ambassador to the United Nations   Nancy McNally

Mac McConnell
Deputy White House Chief of Staff for Strategic Planning
Cliff Calley
C.J. Cregg
White House Chief of Staff