The President (Martin Sheen) ponders the fallout of greenlighting a strike force to overtake a barricaded gang of homegrown terrorists in Idaho -- who include a young non-combatant in need of medical attention -- while his staff tries to negotiate with Bartlet's Republican rival for more, rather than fewer debates. Amy (Mary-Louise Parker) tries to broker a deal between Senator Stackhouse (George Coe) and The White House. Leo (John Spencer) quietly meets with a high-ranking Israeli official (Malachi Throne) to discuss mutual strategy in the wake of the Qumari assassination investigation.
Senator Stackhouse is having a discussion with Amy Gardner and another staff member, Susan Thomas. Governor Ritchie made comments to the AMA and sent the Senator an advance copy of the remarks. Amy tells Susan and the Senator that Ritchie's strategy is to get Stackhouse to comment on the needle exchange program so the President will have to comment as well. She further points out that Josh and the Bartlet campaign will figure it out, too.
At the White House - Donna shows Josh the wires, which include the AMA speech. Josh looks at the transcript and immediately understands, "I know how Ritchie's going to win this election."
Act I - Friday Morning
C.J. is giving her press briefing - she was asked about the President's appearance at the Red Mass. C.J. leaves the briefing to find Sam in the hallway - they both say to the other they know how Ritchie's going to win. C.J. believes it is by keeping the bar low - but Sam is on the same page with Josh.
Senior Staff gather in the Oval Office to talk about the Ritchie comments with the President. They will continue to monitor things as the day progresses. C.J. follows Toby to his office to tell him she is concerned about the expectations being placed on the debate. She is afraid if Governor Ritchie appears even half as capable - it will be a win for him. Toby disagrees. Josh comes to see Donna to tell her she is going to an event the next day - a motivational speaker that has done consulting for Ritchie in the past. She doesn't want to go - but she will.
Leo meets with Israeli Foreign Minister Ben Yosef, who gives Leo the Medal of David in recognition of Leo's accomplishments. The two leave the Mural Room to head to lunch and talk about Qumar. Leo tells Yosef he needs Israel to wait before responding to anything Qumar says or does while the US deals with the situation. Yosef makes no promises but says he will bring it up with the Prime Minister as soon as he returns to Israel.
Act II - Saturday
Josh arrives with the Congressional leadership for a meeting with Senator Stackhouse to discuss his role in the campaign. Josh needs him to get out of the race so the President can deal with Ritchie on his own. The meeting begins and Josh leaves them to the discussion.
At the White House, Anthony is sitting in the office waiting for Charlie to finish his Saturday work. Anthony doesn't want to be there but he and Charlie get into a discussion about the separation of church and state (when Anthony overhears the President will be attending the Red Mass) - Charlie hands Anthony a copy of the Constitution and tells him to prove that it's against the law.
Sam meets with a Congresswoman to get her on the talk shows to talk about the new college tuition plan. As she is leaving, she mentions that Horton Wilde, the nominee for Congress in the California 47th has suffered his fourth heart attack.
In the Situation Room, the President is getting a briefing on the standoff in Iowa. They have determined there is a sick child in the compound and they need to go in or he will die. The President gives the order.
Back at the Stackhouse offices, Amy comes into the room where Josh is waiting. They start to have a discussion and Amy tells Josh that he needs to stop being mad at her - she is the one that lost her job as a result of a strategy he implemented.
Donna has returned from the motivational speaker presentation. She hated it and reports to Josh that it is nothing to worry about but she will write something up. Sam comes to see Leo about Horton Wilde and other Democratic candidates that are running in districts that are not favorable to Democrats. Leo points out that is the problem - they are unwinnable and finding the sacrificial lamb is not easy. Leo gets the call - there are going to be only two Presidential Debates - they had wanted five. Leo tells Margaret to get Senior Staff and let them know.
Sam and Leo have a discussion about the Shareef matter - Sam asks Leo if "we had anything to do with Shareef's death" - Leo doesn't answer. Toby arrives, angry at the announcement to have only two debates. He snatches the statement from Margaret and reads it aloud.
Leo goes into the Oval Office to hear the latest out of the compound in Iowa. Casper reports they took the house, killed one suspect, wounded another, rescued the sick boy, and found guns, explosives, and blueprints for the pool at Kennison State. As the assembled group are celebrating this good news, they receive word that an Israeli plane has gone missing on its way into Ben Gurion Airport. They quickly realize that Ben Yosef was on that plane.
Act IV - Sunday Night
In the residence, C.J. is talking with the President about further lowering expectations about the debates. Sam arrives and the President shows him some changes he made to the remarks for the Red Mass. The President is going on about debates and the inane format proposed for the debates. Sam and C.J. come up with a plan to propose a new format for the debates and further to propose only one debate. The President is intrigued and tells them if Toby signs off - he's in.
Charlie comes to get the President and bring him down to head for the Red Mass. Charlie asks about the Red Mass and why it is not considered a violation of the separation of Church and State. After Bartlet explains, Charlie gets a package from Anthony with his rationale as to why it's wrong.
Amy comes to the White House and meets with Josh. He asks her about where Stackhouse is and she tells Josh that she doesn't really know but she is going to stand with the President. At the Red Mass, Toby comes outside to talk with C.J. - she is selling the one debate. He reluctantly agrees - but only if they take the President away for 24 hours to prep.
After the Mass ends, the President and Senator Stackhouse meet briefly and the Senator thanks the President for the remarks he made in his speech. Stackhouse tells the President he will make arrangements to announce his endorsement of the President in the morning. As Stackhouse leaves, the President tells C.J. to move the press off the church grounds - he is going to take questions on the needle exchange program.
- 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
- Clark Gregg as Special Agent Casper
- George Coe as Howard Stackhouse
- Malachi Throne as Ben Yosef
- Deborah May as Janet
- Robin Bartlett as Susan Thomas
- Andrew McFarlane as Anthony Marcus
- John Cothran, Jr. as Civilian Advisor
- NiCole Robinson as Margaret Hooper
- Larry Brandenburg as Senator Michael Jackson
- Kim Webster as Ginger
- Hilary Salvatore as Emily
- Kris Murphy as Katie Witt
- Becky Meister as Sally
- Ralph Meyering Jr. as Civilian Tom
- Richard Green as Jerry
- Lynn Tufeld as Grace
- Joe Marinelli as Morris
- Brandon Noll as Staffer
- Joe Cosgrove as Cardinal
- Noel Conlon as Jason Weaver
- Helen Duffy as Senator White
- ❝I'm absolutely terrified we're going to lose the expectations game. You can't believe how many times I get asked what would be a win in the debates. At this point I feel like if and only if Ritchie accidentally lights his podium on fire does the President have a fighting chance❞
- Charlie: It's from Anthony. He's the one who was here yesterday.
- Emily: Nice note?
- Charlie: No, at several points he suggest that I might have an improper relationship with my mother.
- Emily: Why are you smiling?
- Charlie: He wrote it on the back of the First Amendment.
- ❝I was telling Josh Lyman about a friend who just got his pilot's license. He told me the most remarkable thing. He said a new pilot will fly into cloud cover. There'll be no visibility. And they'll check their gauges, they'll look at the artificial horizon, it'll show them level, but they won't trust it. So, they'll make an adjustment and then another and another... He said the number of new pilots who fly out of clouds completely upside-down would knock you out. My office will make arrangements for me to endorse you in the morning. You keep your eyes on the horizon, Mr. President❞
- —Senator Stackhouse
- The football game being played on the TV while the President, C.J. and Sam talk about the debate format is a Canadian Football League game between the Calgary Stampeders and the Edmonton Eskimoes. Both teams are from the province of Alberta and have been rivals for over sixty years. They also are consistent challengers for the Grey Cup (CFL Championship). At the time of the airing of this episode the Stampeders had just won the Grey Cup and the Eskimoes had achieved their 30th consecutive playoff appearance. The Quarterback (#12) for the Edmonton Eskimoes is Jason Maas which makes the game a contemporary of the time the episode was filmed as he played for Edmonton between 2000 and 2005.
- There is no such thing as the "Medal of David." The closest equivalent would be the Jabotinsky Medal, or the President's Medal (first awarded 2012).