PRESIDENT IS EN ROUTE TO WEST COAST SPEECH WHILE TENSE CRISIS IN GULF UNFOLDS -- While President Bartlet (Martin Sheen) and some of the staff are en route overnight to Portland for a major education speech, Leo (John Spencer) remains behind to monitor a tense situation in the Persian Gulf when a foreign tanker is suspected of smuggling contraband oil and fires on U.S. Navy helicopters sent to investigate. Elsewhere, Josh (Bradley Whitford) is on a tight deadline when he debates with an opposing party's congressman (guest star Charley Lang) -- who happens to be gay -- the merits of a bill brought before the President that would prohibit same-sex marriages. On the plane, Toby (Richard Schiff) tries to re-work Sam's (Rob Lowe) questionable speech on education while Charlie (Dulé Hill) offers a novel idea that would result in more teachers. In addition, secretary Margaret (guest star Nicole Robinson) worries that her boss, Leo, might be tempted to take a drink after he signs his divorce papers.
The episode opens with the presidential motorcade arriving at Andrews Air Force Base. Charlie tells the President the Assistant Energy Secretary is going to ride on Air Force One so he can speak with the President on the way back. In the press van, C.J. is giving the press the schedule for the trip. Danny asks her why she is going on the trip. She admits that she made fun of Notre Dame on the eve of the Michigan-Notre Dame football game.
Leo speaks with the President on the tarmac and he tells Bartlet about a meeting he had with Bruno and Hess about a tanker that U.S. forces stopped in the Gulf and they may board. At the top of the steps, the President makes C.J. put on a Notre Dame cap and they turn around for photos - to C.J.'s consternation and embarrassment.
Back at the White House, Josh is talking with Leo, who is in the car on the way back to the White House. Donna has a date, and Josh tells her that she has to be back because he is meeting with Skinner. Ainsley shows up at the mess to get a soft drink and some ice. She is carrying a fan because her office is hot, despite the sub freezing temperatures outside.
On the plane, Sam is suffering through a case of writer's block and wants to rework a speech that he wrote. C.J. has already had the draft distributed to the press and Toby and Sam ask her to get it back. The President asks C.J. about the tanker that has been stopped in the Gulf. He then gives her the lyrics to the Notre Dame fight song and tells her to lead the press in a rendition as the plane passes over South Bend.
Congressman Matt Skinner shows up in Josh's office to talk about a gay marriage bill currently in Congress. Skinner is gay and a Republican and Josh cannot believe why he is supporting the bill. Leo arrives in the Situation Room to get a briefing over the stopped tanker. There has been some exchange of gunfire and Leo goes to tell the President about the situation.
Margaret comes in to talk to Leo - she is concerned that he might drink today because his divorce papers arrived - she tells Leo that the President is on the phone. He picks it up and dismisses Margaret with a wave. Donna returns from her [bad] date and goes off to find Josh, after a conversation with Leo, where she expresses her concern for him as well. Josh and Congressman Skinner are in the Mess and talking about the bill.
Sam and Toby are working on the speech and they argue about what the message should be in the speech. C.J. goes back to the press and asks them to give back the old draft - which they don't want to do, but Carol starts to collect them. Charlie tells C.J. they are approaching South Bend and the President likes to hear the song at a "brisk and steady tempo."
Colonel Chase comes to see Leo to update him about the tanker situation. The ship was boarded but they threw the manifest and the log overboard. Aboard Air Force One, the President talks with C.J., Toby, and Sam about the flight and why late night flights are romantic. They are interrupted by a phone call from Leo for the President.
Donna comes to see Ainsley Hayes in her office (the Steam Pipe Distribution Venue). Ainsley is trying to get her work done - but Donna thinks the two of them look alike. Ainsley tells her she is crazy.
Congressman Skinner and Josh continue their discussions over the provisions in the gay marriage bill. Josh continues to be incredulous that a gay Congressman would support a bill like that.
Aboard Air Force One, Sam, Toby, and the President are going over the draft of the education speech. The President is still looking for the "big message" in the speech. He wants to know where the call for 100,000 teachers went. Toby responds they can't get the people to commit to teaching in a public school. Sam sees Charlie scribble "send them to college" and asks him what he means by that. Charlie (at the President's urging) replies that the government pays for your schooling if you serve in the armed forces, why couldn't there be a similar incentive for people who would commit to teach in a public school?
Josh and Congressman Skinner wrap up their argument when Skinner pushes Josh to "ask him the question!" Josh finally blurts out, "How can you be a member of that party!?" The Congressman explains that he agrees with most of the Republican platform and he can live with the rest. Josh thanks him for coming by. As Skinner leaves, Josh sees him interact with the other Congressmen that came with Skinner. Skinner tells one of them to take his arm off of him, more disgusted than he may have let on to Josh.
C.J. comes to see Toby and Sam, who are arguing about the 100,000 teachers proposal. They tell her to tell the press there may be a new initiative in the education speech, even though C.J. has already told the press not to expect anything new. She leaves and the two men resume their argument over how to pay for tuition incentives for teachers. In the bullpen, Ainsley has set up and is trying to work as Donna talks at her. Josh comes and asks Ainsley about some of the provisions in the Marriage Recognition Act. Toby calls to talk to Josh and he tells Toby that it is his job to rein in the President when he gets too far out. Toby starts to tell him about the idea of tuition incentives for teachers, but is interrupted by the captain announcing their descent into Portland.
Josh goes off to see Leo in his office. On the way, he tells Donna that she looks really nice and she should keep the dress (which she had bought for the date and had every intention of returning the next day). Leo is on the phone with the President talking about the oil tanker and Bartlet has to settle to let the ship go. Josh then talks to the President about the Marriage Recognition Act - Josh tells him that he should "put it in a drawer" - but Bartlet doesn't like the idea of pocket vetoes - but again settles and allows it to be killed (though it will be back in the future).
C.J. comes to see the President and asks him why he went to Notre Dame (in response to a question from the press). Toby then comes in and gives the President a draft of the speech. He also suggests the President form a group to investigate a pilot program for tuition incentives for 100 teachers, instead of the 100,000 initially suggested. Bartlet agrees its a start - and since he has had to swallow the two other issues, he's going to give this one a chance.
- Rob Lowe as Sam Seaborn
- Dulé Hill as Charlie Young
- Allison Janney as C.J. Cregg
- Janel Moloney as Donna Moss
- Richard Schiff as Toby Ziegler
- John Spencer as Leo McGarry
- Bradley Whitford as Josh Lyman
- and Martin Sheen as President Bartlet
Special Guest Star
- During the scene in Ainsley's office, the oscillating fan changes direction between shots.
- In the President's study, a laptop is open that shows which parts of the world are in daylight and night. The North Pole is shown to be in daylight. The North Pole is only in daylight between the vernal and autumnal equinoxes (between late March and late September), whereas this episode takes place at some time in November when the North Pole would already be in darkness.
- The phrase 'permanent revolution' is most closely associated with Leon Trotsky, not Mao Zedong, as Toby and the President claim.
- The President claims that Mao took a lot of long flights. Actually, he never flew, as travelling by plane would leave him vulnerable to assassination attempts. He preferred using an armoured train.
- As noted, this episode takes place in November sometime after the midterm elections and before Thanksgiving. In the year 2000, when the episode aired, Notre Dame did not play Michigan. The Notre Dame-Michigan game, when it is played, is typically scheduled in September.