CJ's regular early morning press briefing was winding down. 'Finally, this week's visitor's list,' she said with a smile. 'An Australian trade delegation will be meeting with White House staff today in preparation for a visit by the Australian Prime Minister later this year. The delegation is headed by Australia's Minister for Agriculture and Trade, Mr Richard Saul. Later in the week, and unrelated to the visit of the Australian delegation, we will be hosting a dinner where the guests will include the US Women's Soccer team.' She finished, and indicated one of the regular reporters, who clearly had a question to ask.
'I've heard that one of the senior aides to the US Ambassador to Australia will be accompanying the Australian delegation. Will that cause problems for the talks?'
CJ sighed. She'd known this question was coming, 'I don't know where that story started. Mr Michael Larkin is the US Consul to the Australian State of Victoria. He had a family vacation planned that coincided with the delegation's schedule. Mr Larkin is one of our longest serving diplomats in Australia. He also has a long experience in trade negotiations, and he is accompanying the delegation to Washington at the request of both the Administration and the Australian delegation.'
Next CJ called on Judy Conlan, one of the Australian correspondents.
'CJ, the Australian Prime Minister has recently assured his own people that this trade delegation will push for the United States to cease the use of subsidies and trade tariffs, and to – I'm quoting from the Sydney Morning Herald – adhere to the same policy of free trade they insist upon for others. Does the White House have any reaction?'
'I'm aware of the quote, Judy,' said CJ. 'All I can say is that this is why our two countries are having trade talks. Thank you very much folks, I'll see you in two hours,' she finished, gathering her briefing papers and leaving the press room podium.
Toby was waiting in the corridor. 'That was good,' he said to her, joining her for the walk back to her office.
'So, why is Mike Larkin here with the Australians?'
Toby shrugged. 'Why are you asking me?'
'He was your college roommate. If anyone here knows him, you do.'
Toby simply shrugged again. 'I'm not his keeper. I've kind of lost touch with him these last few years.'
They were passing the communications bullpen when they heard Sam. 'Cathy, will you check this out? I want confirmation,' yelled Toby's deputy, striding towards his office with a piece of paper in his hand.
Toby reached out to stop Sam as he passed them. 'Sam, what's up?'
Sam looked up, obviously distracted by the contents of his paper. 'The Ninth Circuit Federal Appeals Court just ruled the Pledge of Allegiance unconstitutional.'
'They've got to be kidding, right?'
The news of the Federal Court ruling had spread throughout the building as quickly as any development ever did. Josh had cornered Sam in the lobby to question his friend about it.
'Cathy confirmed it with the D.O.J.,' said Sam.
'The Pledge is unconstitutional?'
'Part of it is,' replied Sam. 'In 1954, Congress added the phrase "one nation, under God" to the pledge. That's what the Ninth just ruled on.'
'They were kidding, right?' sighed Josh.
'You've already asked me that.'
'So, you'll talk to people, right?'
'Who's to talk to? The Court made the decision, and by the way, they were right. Politically this is a bit of a hot potato, but it's only a case of crafting the message.'
'Which happens to be your job,' returned Josh. 'Toby's going to be busy today with the Australians.
Sam's attention drifted away as he looked around at the people hurrying through the corridors. Suddenly, he turned back to Josh. 'I'll do what I can. The Republicans will no doubt be up in arms, but that will give us a chance to sort out our own position.'
'Well, rather you than me,' said Josh.
As they left the lobby and entered the staff bullpen, Donna hurried up to meet Josh with a gleam in her eye. Before she opened her mouth, Josh spoke. 'Yes, the Ninth Circuit Federal Appeals Court ruled the phrase "one nation, under God" to be unconstitutional. I haven't got any idea why, but I'm sure Sam has it all under control. Isn't that right, Sam?' he finished.
'That's great, Josh,' said Donna. 'But I wanted to ask you about soccer.'
Sam raised his eyebrows, then nodded at Josh and walked back across the lobby to his own office.
'I've been watching the World Cup.' Donna followed Josh into his office.
'Because I have been. Why does the rest of the world get so excited about soccer? We barely even know the World Cup is happening.'
'We never win - that's why we pay no attention to it,' said Josh.
'Well, the US team is doing quite well at the moment.'
'Why do you know this much about a sport that only ten year olds play?'
'Because it's fun.'
'It's not fun,' Josh reassured his assistant. 'You still haven't answered my question.'
'Josh?' Sam appeared in the doorway to Josh's office.
'It's going to be one of those days,' said Sam. 'We've got reports of shots at a high school in Minnesota. Leo wants us.'
Josh jumped up from his seat. As he followed Sam from the room, he paused and looked back at Donna. 'Soccer?' Then he hurried after Sam to Leo's office, joining the rest of the senior staff. He was the last one to arrive, and he closed the door behind him.
Leo was standing behind the desk. 'We need to make this as quick as possible – Toby and I have a trade delegation waiting. Sam, what do we know?'
'Not much. Apple Valley is a suburb of Minneapolis/St Paul. The Dakota County police and the State police are attending a report of shots fired at one of the local high schools.'
There was a knock on the door, and Bonnie came in and handed a folder to Sam, then slipped out again.
'Thanks, Bonnie,' he called after her. He opened the folder and his face fell. He handed the folder to Leo.
Leo read the top sheet of the folder, and his shoulders slumped. 'Four kids and one teacher are confirmed dead. Another four people – two kids, two adults – are on their way to United Hospital in St Paul, including the kid with the gun.'
CJ took a deep breath, then was immediately all business. 'We'll have to have a comment ready.'
Leo nodded. 'Sincere condolences to the families and friends. Stay off the issue of gun control.'
CJ nodded. 'I know the drill.'
'Josh – I want you to keep in touch with this one. Sam, you need to be developing our response to the Federal Court ruling.' Leo handed the information folder on to Josh, and Sam nodded at the assignment he'd been given. Leo picked up another folder and nodded in Toby's direction. 'We've got a meeting. You go, catch up with Mike, do the introductions. Josh, you come with me.'
'Thank you, Leo,' said everyone except Josh, and left the room by whichever door was most convenient. Josh and Leo went through the connecting door into the Oval Office.
'Good morning, Mr President,' said Leo.
The President looked up from behind the desk. 'Leo, Josh. What can you tell me?' Bartlet stood up and moved to the softer chairs, indicating that his Chief and Deputy Chief of Staff should take their seats opposite him.
'Sir, I'll be dealing with the Apple Valley shooting today,' said Josh. 'We've got some preliminary information here, and I'll get in contact with the Minnesota authorities straight away.'
'Good,' said the President, nodding and switching his attention to Leo. 'Now, what's this I hear about the Pledge of Allegiance being ruled unconstitutional?'
'One phrase has been ruled unconstitutional,' said Leo.
Leo swallowed. '"One nation, under God".'
The President stared at Leo, then shook his head slightly. 'You've got someone looking at this?' he asked.
'Good.' The President nodded again, considering. 'Okay – what's next?'
'I'm going in to meet with the Australians now.'
'What is their deal with us and free trade?'
Josh replied, 'They think we ought to practice what we preach.'
'That'll be the day,' said the President, ruefully. 'Let me know how things go today.'
'Yes, Mr President,' said Leo.
'Thank you, sir,' added Josh.
Bartlet nodded, then called out to his personal aide. 'Charlie! What's next?'
Josh smiled to Charlie as they passed in the outer office.
Leo continued to give instructions to Josh on the Apple Valley situation as they walked to the Roosevelt Room. 'There's not much you can actually do,' he said, 'But make sure the Governor's people know that we'll offer support if it's needed. Let him know we forgive him for being an independent.'
'Do we forgive him for being a wrestler?'
'We'll think about it,' said Leo, letting the mood lighten for just a moment as they reached the Roosevelt Room, and he looked through the windows at the crowd of people there. He squared his shoulders, acknowledged Josh's wishes of good luck, and opened the door.
The level of chatter was that of pleasant conversation. Toby turned to acknowledge Leo as he entered, and began to introduce him around the Australian delegation. Leo saved his widest smile for Mike Larkin.
'Mike, it's good to see you again!'
'Leo, it's great to be back.'
'Where have you left the rest of the family?'
'They're at Sarah's folks' place. Her parents can't get enough of their granddaughters.'
'I can only imagine. Australia's a long way away from Virginia.'
In the background, Toby coughed.
Leo took the hint, and nodded at the room in general. 'Let's get started, folks. Mike – how about we put you at the head of the table. As you have a foot in each camp, you can referee us if things get too nasty.'
Mike smiled and took the place Leo had indicated. Leo and Toby took their places on one side of the table, with the Agriculture Secretary, Roger Tribbey. On the other side sat Richard Saul, the Australian Minister of Agriculture and Trade, and his chief adviser, Diane Curnow. One either side of the main players, the respective staffs settled themselves, opening folders and pulling pens from pockets.
Leo looked at Saul. Saul avoided Leo's eyes, and instead turned to Curnow, who had clearly been selected to open the talks.
'Mr McGarry,' began Curnow. 'For a number of years now, the United States has told the rest of the world that what it needs is free trade. Australia has followed your lead – we have liberalised trade beyond anything envisaged at the time of Federation one hundred years ago. And yet we cannot sell wheat to your country. We cannot sell lamb, and we cannot sell steel. "Do as I say and not as I do" gets tiring very quickly, Mr McGarry. Our cards are on the table - what Australia wants is for the President to give our Prime Minister the assurance that trade tariffs and subsidies will be dropped by this Government. It's time the United States abides by the principles it insists upon for others.'
Leo paused before replying, then turned to Larkin. 'Got your whistle ready, Mike?'
At the sound of his name turned into two North Carolinian syllables, Sam looked up from his computer.
'Ainsley. What do you need?'
The Associate White House Counsel leaned on the doorframe. 'The decision of the Ninth Federal Appeals this morning. It was nuts. I wanted to make sure you realised that.'
Sam took off his glasses and leaned back in his chair. 'What if I don't agree?'
'Then it's my job to convince you you're wrong.'
'Good luck,' Sam said pleasantly.
'How can the Pledge of Allegiance be ruled unconstitutional?' she said.
'Quite easily. In fact, the Ninth just did exactly that.'
'Surely you don't agree with the ruling?' asked Ainsley, incredulously.
'I most certainly agree with the ruling. What I don't understand is other people's reactions,' replied Sam. 'I've got to brief the President this afternoon, and all I'm getting from other people is a general sense of disbelief. Out of everyone in the West Wing, I assume you will at least know why you disagree.'
Ainsley left the doorframe and settled down one of Sam's chairs. 'Okay then,' she said. 'Let's get started.'
CJ shuffled through her folders before yelling out for Carol.
'What?' Carol poked her head around the door.
'Do I have anything I can tell them?'
'Josh hasn't given me anything,' said Carol. 'Neither has Sam, and I haven't heard from Toby.'
'Well, ring around again, and tell Josh if he has nothing for me, I'm coming to get it out of him with a baseball bat.'
Carol stared. 'You really want me to say that?'
CJ continued sorting folders, but looked up at Carol momentarily. 'Yes.'
'Okay.' Carol's head disappeared.
CJ dropped her handful of papers onto the desk in frustration. The press would be clamouring for comment on the Federal Court ruling and on the situation in Apple Valley. The trade talks would never have been the big story of the news cycle, but now they wouldn't even be noticed. And at this point in time, American-US trade statistics were what CJ knew the most about. She hadn't been briefed on constitutional law in preparation for this week – she had researched trade statistics. As so often happened in this job, something had come out of left field, and as a result, no one would want to know the information she'd actually looked up.
Carol stood in the door once again. 'Ainsley Hayes is currently giving Sam the Republican line, and President wants to wait until this afternoon to speak with him.'
CJ nodded. The President would want some time to straighten out his thoughts on the pledge ruling. It wouldn't be easy for him. 'And Josh?' she asked.
'Bring your baseball bat.'
CJ stood up. 'Well, he asked for it.'
'Do you have a baseball bat?' asked Carol, obviously puzzled.
'You could borrow Toby's stress ball,' she offered.
'It wouldn't hurt enough,' replied CJ as she passed Carol on her way to Josh's office.
The staff bullpen was buzzing with activity. As she hurried past, CJ thought she heard Donna asking someone about World Cup results, but decided she must have misheard.
'Josh, you've got to give me something,' said CJ as she entered Josh's office. He was on the phone, and held up a hand to ask her to wait until he'd finished.
'There's really not much else I can tell you,' he said into the phone. 'I'll get in touch with you later. Okay.' He hung up the receiver and turned to CJ. 'Now, what would you like? A piece of fruit, perhaps?' he asked, picking up an orange from the bowl on his desk and tossing it to CJ.
'No thanks,' replied CJ. For an instant she considered throwing the orange back at his head, hard, but that would be a waste of a perfectly good piece of fruit. She sat it back down in the bowl. 'What I would like,' she said, 'is something I can give the press on what's going on in Apple Valley. It's been two hours now.'
'Look, there's really nothing more I can tell you,' said Josh. 'The shooter is still in surgery, as is one of the injured adults. All we can offer at this point is general condolences,' Josh leant forward and propped his head in his hands. 'I'm guessing the President will call the families this evening.'
CJ nodded. 'He usually does,' she said automatically. She met Josh's eyes, sighed, and added, 'If only there were fewer "usuallys".'
'Yep,' replied Josh. It seemed there was little else to say.
Breaking the silence, CJ squared her shoulders and said, 'Okay - look, I've got to get in there - there's nothing I need to say about gun control and national legislative agendas?'
'At this point there's nothing you can say,' replied Josh. 'Somehow gun control slipped off everyone's radar screen.' He sighed and flexed one shoulder unconsciously.
'It's called re-election, combined with the NRA's deep pockets,' said CJ, sympathetic for a moment. 'If you get anything I can use, let me know.'
Josh nodded and CJ left his office, heading for the press room. As she reached the door she heard Carol call out to her.
'You need to know this before you go in there,' said Carol, hurrying up and handing CJ a sheaf of papers fresh from the printer. 'Congress members have started to comment on the Pledge ruling.'
'Great,' sighed CJ, flipping though the notes. 'An office full of lawyers can't come up with a response in two hours, but stick a microphone in front of a member of the US Congress, and…' A line in the notes caught her eye and she trailed off, read it again, and then grinned. 'This may be just what I need…get a copy of this to Sam.'
Carol nodded and left as CJ entered the press room. She hadn't even settled herself behind the podium before the crowd started firing questions at her.
'And, we're back,' said CJ, lifting her hands to quiet the clamour and to indicate she would take questions later. 'First, the shooting in Apple Valley, Minnesota. There's little more we can tell you since our last briefing. Of the two students taken from the Thomas Paine High School to United Hospital, one is out of danger. The other student is still in surgery. Surgery on one of the two adults injured at the scene is continuing - the other adult is out of surgery, but is listed as critical.'
'CJ!' Hands shot into the air.
'You said one student was out of danger, and the other was still in surgery. Which one of those is the shooter?'
'The one still in surgery. Steve?'
'Can we expect this to influence a renewed push from the administration for gun control?'
'Steve, five people died this morning - three more are still critical. No one is talking legislative agendas today.'
The press room fell silent for a moment - so short a moment that unless you knew the people there very well, you wouldn't notice it. The moment was soon past, and the clamour erupted again.
'The Ninth Appeals Court's ruling on the Pledge of Allegiance. What is the White House position?'
CJ paused. 'This is a ruling of the Federal Court. Under the separation of powers the Executive must acknowledge the decision of the Judiciary. We are in contact with the State's Attorney for California, and our own staff - which includes some highly regarded constitutional lawyers, strangely enough;' this light joke raised a laugh, as she had hoped, 'are studying the ruling. There's nothing more we can say at this time,' she finished.
Steve — a long-time correspondent for AP/Reuters — got her attention yet again. 'CJ, there's an unconfirmed quote from the Majority Whip calling the ruling "preposterous and pointless". Do you have any comment?'
This was the question she'd been hoping for when Carol had shown her the quote. Nevertheless, she kept her answer casual. 'I would remind the Majority Whip that a ruling of the Federal Court has the force of law unless and until it is overridden by a superior court, the Legislature, or the Executive. It may be that he feels that the ruling is "preposterous and pointless". But as of this moment, it is the law.'
Noticing Judy Conlan's sympathetic face near the back, CJ called on her, hoping the Australian correspondent would change the topic. She wasn't disappointed.
'Any news yet from the trade talks?' Conlan asked.
CJ shook her head. 'None that I've heard, but then I've been in here with you folk for the last while.' Again, the reporters laughed gently. 'However, they're about due for what you might call "morning tea", Judy - so I'm expecting to hear complaints about the coffee echoing from the Roosevelt Room any minute now.'
Toby was took advantage of the break in negotiations to catch up with Mike. 'How old are the girls?' he asked. 'I can't keep track.'
'Haven't you ever heard of e-mail? I ought to hear from you more than just at Christmas.' Mike scowled jokingly at Toby. 'Mia is fifteen. She's in ninth grade now. Keeley started university this year. She'll be nineteen in November.'
Toby shook his head. 'It seems ridiculous that I have an honorary god-daughter who is almost twenty.'
Mike shrugged. 'Sarah and I started early.'
'While we were still in college, as I recall.'
'Well, what can I say…'
'You could apologise for kicking me out of the dorm room so often,' retorted Toby.
'I could, but I'm not going to.'
Diane Curnow joined the two men. 'Is there any chance of getting a cup of tea around here?' she asked.
'Tea? I don't know, that sounds difficult,' replied Toby, with a tell-tale glint in his eye. 'I'll get someone to see to it.' He opened one of the doors and asked Ginger, who was passing at that moment, to arrange some tea. Then he turned back to Mike, who was telling Diane of his long friendship with Toby, stretching back before their days at college.
'Only problem is,' Mike continued, 'Toby's too lazy to keep in touch.'
'Some of us have jobs, you know,' said Toby, rejoining the conversation. 'We can't all swan around foreign countries going to diplomatic functions. How much vacation did you manage to get?'
'Another two weeks. We need to be back in Melbourne before the girls' vacations finish up. Mia is missing a fortnight of school as it is.'
Mike chuckled. 'Two weeks,' he explained. 'I always forget that Americans don't know that one,' he said to Diane, who was listening with some amusement to the banter between Mike and Toby.
'You've definitely been there too long,' said Toby.
'Don't I know it,' Mike replied, his voice more serious than the comment seemed to require.
Toby passed over Mike's odd tone and changed the subject. 'What does Keeley think of college?'
'She loves university. College she's not so keen on.'
'I've always suspected Australians didn't speak English,' Toby said to Diane.
'College is like your dorms, but they're run separately from the university, mostly with church connections,' she explained.
'At times the whole college can be like one big, permanent Frat party. That's not really Keeley's style,' added Mike
Toby nodded in comprehension. 'So a family vacation wasn't all that unpleasant a prospect.'
'She's enjoying herself. Mia is loving it.'
'And you and Sarah?'
Mike paused for a moment. 'We're both glad to be back home for a while.'
There was something discomforting in Mike's response, but before Toby could say anything, he noticed a harried-looking Josh pulling Leo away from his conversation with Richard Saul and an aide to the Secretary of Agriculture. Toby shot a questioning look towards Josh, but the Deputy Chief of Staff shook his head, content just to speak with Leo.
Mike noticed his friend's distraction. 'There's a lot going on today.'
'No more than any other day,' replied Toby.
Diane said quietly, 'We heard about the school shooting in the car on the way over.'
Toby nodded. 'These things shake everyone up,' he said.
'I was working in the Cabinet Office when the news about Port Arthur came through,' Diane commented. 'It was a Sunday afternoon, but everything was chaos for the next twenty-four hours.'
Mike nodded in agreement. Toby sifted through his memory before eventually recalling the tragedy of six years ago — the shooting of about thirty people on a sunny afternoon at a crowded tourist attraction, and one of the worst mass-murders Australia had ever experienced.
'That was what prompted your gun control laws, wasn't it?' Toby asked.
Diane nodded. 'We managed quite a swift response,' she said. 'I think the laws were through parliament before the shooter came to trial.'
'How have those laws been going?' Toby asked. 'The President would love to introduce similar legislation, but…well, we've got some additional difficulties here.'
Diane smiled understandingly. 'The second amendment and the NRA,' she said. 'Our own gun lobby keeps us well informed about both.'
Toby grimaced. 'The NRA keeps everyone well informed of everything.'
'Except on how our laws are actually working. We also know about the campaign they've been running over here,' replied Diane.
'It was a brilliant example of media manipulation,' said Toby, remembering the brutal advertising campaign that had claimed that crime rates in Australia had soared since the introduction of their tough gun-control laws. The legislation had resulted in the repurchase and destruction of thousands of firearms.
'The houses they showed - with security gates? That was an upper-class part of the city, and I've seen heavier security in some of the middle-class parts of the DC suburbs,' said Mike. 'And worse, the interview footage was made without informing the interviewees of its purpose. There wasn't a bit of truth in any of what I've seen of that campaign.'
'Has there been any fallout from the laws?' Toby asked.
'There was some inevitable complaint from the rural areas, before farmers realised that we weren't taking their guns away entirely. It's really no longer an issue, now. We added a levy to our healthcare system to pay for the buyback, but most people were willing to pay it in order to ensure that the buyback happened. For a while,' added Diane, 'We even had a lot of the left wing on our side. Gun control creates strange bedfellows.'
'Toby is used to strange bedfellows,' said Mike with a grin.
'Speak for yourself,' responded Toby among the laughter that only grew with his comment.
Ginger entered the room with a tray, piled with cups and saucers, a small teapot and an extra jug of hot water. 'Thanks,' said Toby. 'Your tea, Diane.'
Leo re-entered the room, clutching a mug of coffee. Richard Saul strolled to his side, but Leo held up a hand to stall the Australian. 'Toby?' Leo called.
Toby excused himself from the conversation, crossing the room to his boss.
'I'm going to have to help Josh for the next little while. He's getting pressured from all sides,' said Leo.
'If it's any consolation, we'd have a lot of friends in this room if we kick-started the debate again,' said Toby.
'Too bad they don't vote in this country. I'll let Saul know that I can't run this next session. You'll be right doing this?'
'I'll be fine,' Toby assured him. 'We didn't strike anything complex this morning.'
'That doesn't mean we won't hit trouble now,' said Leo, darkly. As he nodded to Saul, who moved to join him, Leo muttered to Toby, 'And this was supposed to be one of our easier days.'
'So, tell me again why you've been watching soccer, of all things?' Taking a very short break from answering phone calls of all descriptions, Josh was picking over the remains of the pastry cart.
'I enjoy it,' Donna answered, somewhat lamely.
'I can't believe that - no, actually, I can. But why did you ever start watching it?'
She hesitated, tilting her head slightly to one side. Then she shrugged her shoulders and answered. 'Cliff and I were at his sister's place for dinner. Her kids are huge soccer fans, and they were talking about the World Cup.'
'You were at Cliff's sister's?' asked Josh.
'This is getting serious, isn't it?'
'No.' Donna shook her head and tucked a strand of hair behind her ear.
'Cliff takes you to dinner at his sister's house and you spend the evening watching soccer with his nephews? That's serious.' Josh finally left the pastry cart and checked the coffee percolator, refilling his mug.
'Cliff has nieces.'
'Whatever. Face it, Donna - you're getting serious with a Republican. That's bad news.'
Donna's face fell. 'Will I still be allowed to work here?' She was clearly worried.
'I don't know,' said Josh, heading back towards his office. 'I guess that's up to me - and I don't know if I want a soccer fan working for me.' He disappeared into his office before Donna could make any reply. As if on cue, the external line phone on Donna's desk began to ring.
After the mid-morning break, the dynamics of the Australian-American trade talks changed. Richard Saul no longer left all the talking to Diane. Inwardly, Toby changed his initial assessment of the Australian Minister for Agriculture. A man he had earlier considered not only silent but probably less than intelligent was proving to be sharp-witted and a skilled debater. Not only that, he was also well-briefed on US agricultural policy. Recalling how many briefings CJ had gone through on trade policy and statistics, Toby had the sudden, almost irrational wish to see CJ debate Saul head to head. The one thing that would be guaranteed would be that the debate would be a barnburner.
Toby shook the thought from his head and returned his attention to the discussion.
'The World Trade Organization has ruled against protectionist trade policies,' argued Saul, exasperation creeping into his voice. 'In addition, they've ruled specifically against the protectionist trade policies of this administration.'
Across the table, the Agriculture Secretary shuffled the papers lying in front of him. Roger Tribbey clearly was not as well prepared as his Australian counterpart. Toby shot a look at Mike Larkin, sitting at the end of the table. He had not said a word in the course of the discussions, either during the morning or since the break.
Tribbey cleared his throat. 'Decisions of the World Trade Organization…,' he began.
'Are binding on parties to the WTO, including the United States,' Saul interrupted. 'The WTO isn't the United Nations - you can't obfuscate over their rulings!' His impatience with Tribbey, and probably with the entire American delegation, was increasingly apparent.
Curnow leaned over and spoke quietly to her boss.
He nodded in reply, then resumed speaking more calmly. 'Let's turn to the question of lamb subsidies. Or would you rather we discussed the issue of wheat?'
'Surely you understand that we need to protect our own farmers,' replied Tribbey.
Saul paused before replying, and smiled. 'Previous Australian governments,' he said, 'have certainly prided themselves on protectionist policies. We understand the need to protect the "little Aussie battler" or whatever your equivalent is. There's just one problem - the subsidies that cut us out of the market don't help your "battlers". They help corporate farms, not struggling farmers.'
Diane Curnow turned some pages in front of her. 'In fact, we can give you a perfect political argument for you to use when you decide that we're right about your trade practices, Secretary Tribbey. Your subsidies help the Republicans. They help corporations who give money to your opponents, while cheerfully accepting the handouts you give them.'
Saul took over from Curnow. 'Our government has acted on the advice of numerous US administrations and has embraced policies of free trade and competition. Having done so, it is incumbent upon us to protect our own farmers, as you purport to protect yours. Free trade policies work best when trade is truly free - and that cannot be said of any trade that involves the United States of America.'
Tribbey opened his mouth to reply, but hesitated. In the pause, Mike Larkin leaned forward.
'Folks, as I understand it,' he said, 'the point of today is to lay the groundwork for the Prime Minister's visit. What none of us need is a knock-down fight over which issues make it to the table.'
Saul turned towards Larkin. 'Mike, we already know the issues that need to be on the table: subsidies, tariffs, restrictive trade practices, and this administration's attitude to rulings of the WTO.'
Mike nodded. 'What does the US want on the table, Mr Secretary?' he asked Tribbey, in turn.
Tribbey held up his hands. 'The American position has always been that Australia is coming to us. We're perfectly satisfied with the current situation - you're the ones with the problem,' he finished, speaking directly to Saul.
Tribbey's answer almost made Toby wince. Saul's face went red, and Toby noticed a strained expression on Larkin's face.
Saul responded, his voice tight. 'Well, at least we know what we're dealing with.'
The two delegations faced each other in silence across the table.
Before anyone spoke, the corner door opened and Leo walked in. He surveyed the silent delegations. 'Well,' he said, 'I guess we don't have as much to say to each other as we thought we did.'
Sam and Ainsley had adjourned their discussion to the mess, and were sitting in a corner with coffee and muffins half-finished on the table in front of them. Sam leaned back in his chair, chomping on an apple as he listened to Ainsley arguing a new point.
'This is part of American culture. When you come to this country —'
Sam leant forward and cut her off. 'This guy is an atheist; white, middle class, fourth or fifth generation Anglo-American. He's concerned about his daughter. He doesn't like the mention of God in the pledge. This isn't an issue of assimilation. And even if it was,' Sam added, 'it's a lousy argument.'
Ainsley picked at the muffin in front of her.
'I don't get it,' Sam said. 'You Republicans keep criticising us for interfering with people's lives, and yet you are in favour of making children declare their faith in God every school day of the year? A faith they might not actually hold?'
'If it makes them better people - better citizens, better Americans - then yes.'
'Who are we to decide that belief in God makes them better people?' asked Sam. 'Whatever happened to your commitment to the rights of the individual to do whatever they want?'
Ainsley shrugged. 'There are limits. American family values are one of those limits.'
'Tell that to John Stuart Mill,' muttered Sam, shaking his head. He finished his apple and dropped the core into his coffee cup. Ainsley abandoned her muffin. They stood up and left the mess, heading back up the stairs to Sam's office. Halfway up the stairs Sam stopped. 'So you don't believe that the separation of church and state extends to the Pledge? What about the first amendment?'
Ainsley was a couple of steps above him. 'In God we trust, Sam. In God. We. Trust. It's on our currency, it's in our legislation —,' she stopped and sighed, walking down two steps to join Sam on the landing. 'Sure, church and state should be separated, but how can you take God out of the state? God is in the pledge, and I don't think I can take him out of it.'
Sam shook his head. 'I never would have picked you as the religious type.' He started climbing the stairs again.
Ainsley followed. 'Come on. You've applied every other Southern stereotype to me at some stage – why not the Southern Baptist stereotype?'
'I don't really know,' said Sam. 'People our age aren't supposed to be religious.'
'Some of us are.' They turned the corner into the Communications bullpen.
'I know that now.' Sam took a couple of messages from Ginger as he walked past her. As he and Ainsley walked back into his office, he asked, 'So what denomination are you?'
'Episcopalian, actually. I thought you knew that.'
Having continued the battle unsuccessfully for an extra half hour, Leo was more than frustrated. 'Okay,' he said finally, closing his folder with a snap. 'Obviously none of us have anything more to say now. How about we have lunch, and resume in two hours time.' He stood up.
'Long lunches you have around here,' Mike said to the room in general.
Leo chuckled, and signalled Toby to join him in the hallway outside. 'The President is expecting an update,' he said, turning towards the Oval Office.
'An update on what?' asked Toby as he followed. 'That charade we laughingly refer to as "trade negotiations"?'
'Simmer down, Toby,' replied Leo. They entered the outer office, passing Nancy at the filing cabinet, sorting through a pile of manilla folders.
Charlie was sitting at his desk making notes from a large — and old-looking — book. 'Go on in — he's waiting for you.'
Leo knocked on the door and went in, but Toby paused by Charlie's desk. 'What's he got you researching this time?'
'The pilgrims,' replied Charlie with a slight roll of his eyes. 'Treatises on religious freedoms, that sort of thing.'
'Any way you can use it in a college paper?' asked Nancy, over her shoulder.
'If I used everything I researched in my college papers I wouldn't have to study American History or Civics.'
'It's a hard life,' replied Toby, moving into the Oval Office.
The President was sitting with his back to the windows, with Leo in the opposite armchair. Toby moved swiftly across the room and sat down on the sofa facing the President. Bartlet put down the papers he had been looking at. 'So - how go the talks?'
'We've hit something of an impasse, Mr President,' said Toby.
'This is unexpected?'
'Not entirely,' admitted Leo. 'But the Australian position is more immovable than we were led to expect. Richard Saul can talk rings around Tribbey, and that's without any help from his key assistant, who is also able to talk rings around Tribbey.'
'Let's be fair, here,' said the President. 'There are a lot of people in the world who can talk rings around Roger Tribbey.'
'True,' said Toby, 'but it would be nice if we had one of those people on our side for when Saul and Diane Curnow get going.'
'What about that friend of yours, Toby - Michael Larkin?'
'Mike feels that it is his place to be strictly neutral. He's got a foot in both camps, and I really think he wants to stay out of it to avoid angering either party.' Toby didn't add that he thought that they were at more risk of being angered by anything Mike said than the Australians, no matter what Mike's citizenship and job description. He'd seen the stress on Mike's face at certain statements made by Tribbey, and it had only increased when Leo had rejoined the discussions and made some equally high-handed comments.
'What are we really talking about here?' asked the President.
'The World Trade Organization rulings, tariffs and subsidies, protectionist trade policies —' said Leo.
'And don't forget the corporate farms,' added Toby.
'They're worried about corporate farms?' asked the President.
'Not unreasonably, sir,' said Toby. He turned slightly towards Leo. 'Curnow's argument on that was compelling.'
'And on how many others?' said the President, softly. 'Toby, I can tell you've been sold: you don't usually act this nicely towards foreign delegations.'
'Their basic argument is that we told them to liberalise trade, but we won't do it ourselves. It's a fair point.'
'As an economist, I can see their argument,' said the President. 'But I'm a Democratic President, and therefore I lean toward protecting domestic trade. Quite apart from that, I don't remember ever personally telling Australia to liberalise their trade. I don't think I've ever even met the Australian Prime Minister.'
Toby opened his mouth to reply, but Leo spoke first.
'Sir - I think the main thing here is that we're at an impasse. Barring any improvement in the talks this afternoon, this is going to have to be hammered out long-distance over the next few months, before the Prime Minister actually does come for a visit.'
'Okay. See what you can do after lunch.' The President picked up his papers again.
'Yes sir. Thank you, Mr President,' said Toby.
Leo indicated that Toby should join him in his office. Leo shut the connecting door behind him. 'Were you and Mike planning to have lunch together?' he asked.
Toby shook his head. 'We hadn't planned anything definite,' he said.
'Go have lunch,' said Leo. 'Get out of the White House - and find out what his position is and why he hasn't been more helpful to us.'
'I think he's on their side, Leo.'
'Well, he shouldn't be,' said Leo. 'Find out why he is. Margaret!' he bellowed.
Margaret opened the door and Toby walked out as she walked in to find out what her boss wanted.
In the Bartlet White House, discussions about religion were not uncommon. Yet Sam was still surprised at the turn his conversation with Ainsley had taken.
'Tell me, Sam — how do you take God out of life?'
'I'm really not the person to ask.'
Sam paused, unsure he wanted to share such a personal part of his life. Then again — this was Ainsley. 'Because I've tried, and I can't do it,' he said eventually.
Ainsley regarded him thoughtfully. 'Then you see my point,' she said, without asking him to explain himself.
'No, I don't,' he replied, and dragged the conversation back to the pledge. 'This phrase was added to the pledge in 1954, in a time when everyone went to church or to temple. The pledge wasn't handed down to us from God, in fact, I can't think of anything that is written down that was.' He held up a hand. 'But let's not get into a debate about the Bible right now, okay? Separation between church and state is mandated by the constitution. "One nation, under God" was added in a particular historical moment. Is there anything wrong, in this particular historical moment, with us deleting it again?'
'You're running a cultural relativist argument, Sam?'
'When it suits me,' he replied, grinning slightly. 'Face it, Ainsley. God isn't in the Constitution: God isn't in the Articles of Confederation. Why should God be in the pledge?
Ainsley took a breath. 'When in the course of human events,' she began.
'Are you going to quote the whole Declaration?' asked Sam, interrupting her, 'Or is that the only way you'll be able to remember the lines you want to point out?'
Ainsley didn't answer directly. 'It becomes necessary for one people…to assume, among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature's God entitle them,' she said. 'I'm not finished,' she snapped, when Sam opened his mouth to speak. 'All men - or people if you prefer - are endowed by their Creator,' she verbally underlined the words, 'with certain unalienable rights. And Sam, if you'll mentally skip down two pages with me, you'll arrive at this; And, for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor. If that isn't "one nation, under God", then I don't know what is.'
'Wow,' said Sam, genuinely impressed.
Ainsley glared. 'The Declaration sets out why we became America. Why we're not British and what was wrong with that system. And it's right there.'
'I'm not about to argue with you on that. But the Constitution overrides the Declaration. Law, rather than a declaration, the legal status of which is debatable. And the Constitution mandates absolute separation between church and state.'
'We're never going to agree on this, Sam. I know you well enough to know that. For a moment there, though, you gave me hope…'
'Sorry, Ainsley. As far as Constitutional law goes, this is clear cut.'
'I've been in this game long enough to separate personal feelings from my work.'
'Are you sure?' asked Ainsley.
'I don't like doing this, CJ. It goes against everything I … it goes against everything.'
CJ dug a fork into her salad and looked across her office at Josh, who had picked his hamburger apart.
'This isn't burnt,' he muttered in frustration.
'Criticising the cooking in the Mess goes against everything you believe in?' CJ asked.
'No, I do that on a regular basis. But turning down an opportunity to strengthen gun control does. I've spent all morning fielding calls, assuring the Republicans and conservative Democrats that we're not going to move on this, and defending that decision to liberal Democrats who keep reminding me I was shot. As if I didn't remember.' He shrugged, then leant his head back on the sofa and let out a sigh.
'I sympathise,' said CJ. 'You know I do. But you also know that we can't possibly bring gun control up again. The last time we tried, it was a disaster.'
'Five people are dead. I want to be able to do something about that.'
Before CJ could respond, her phone rang. Josh tossed his hamburger back in its box, waiting for CJ to get off the phone.
'This isn't going to help you, Josh. The teacher who was listed as critical — he just died.' CJ paused. 'Sometimes I'd like to strangle whoever suggested the second amendment.'
'I'm with you on that one,' said Josh, standing up. 'I've got to get back to work.'
As he walked glumly back to his office, Donna latched onto him.
'Did you hear about the riots?'
'What riots? Where?' His head snapped up.
Josh's shoulders slumped in relief. 'Don't scare me like that.'
'Central Moscow was destroyed by riots. You ought to be scared.'
'What are they rioting over?'
'They got beaten in the World Cup,' replied Donna, in a tone that indicated she thought Josh should have realised.
'What is it with you and soccer?' Josh asked.
'There's a South Korean player,' said Donna, ignoring Josh's comment. 'He scored the winning goal against Italy to get South Korea into the next round. But he usually plays for an Italian club, and the club is telling him he's not welcome back next season.'
'I'm sure he has a contract, Donna,' said Josh, paying as little attention as possible to his assistant.
'They really don't seem to care about such things,' replied Donna. 'They see it as an affront to their national pride and dignity that they got beaten.'
'I told you it was a ridiculous sport.'
'It obviously means a lot to them. It's a really political game.'
'Senegal beat France a week ago,' she said. 'They're still partying.'
Josh stopped walking. 'Okay - I can see why that would be fun.'
Donna shook her head. 'Why can you understand that, but you don't care about riots in Moscow?'
'Donna, think about how much fun anyone has when they can act superior to the French. Multiply that by two centuries of colonialism and the population of Senegal. Now that would be a party.'
'So you do get it.'
'Only where Senegal is concerned.'
'I really don't understand you, Josh.'
'And my work here is done,' he tossed over his shoulder as he disappeared into his office.
'I'm not really sure how to describe this morning's session,' said Toby, as he and Mike sat down to lunch.
'A dog's breakfast, maybe?' replied Mike. 'I hate to say it, but your Agriculture Secretary…' He trailed off.
'Roger Tribbey's not the worst of them,' said Toby.
'Australia's got its share of dullards, too.'
'Their Mr Saul has got a silver tongue, I notice.'
'He's well known for it. Old Sydney family, Kings School…but none of this is relevant.'
'No, it's not,' Toby agreed. 'Mike, why are you here?'
Mike didn't respond.
'Why now? Why this particular round of the negotiations?'
'I thought I could be of assistance. I do know my way around both systems of government. I doubt either Tribbey or Saul could say the same.'
The waitress arrived with their sandwiches. When she left the table, Toby spoke, in a tone that was not entirely serious.
'Leo McGarry is questioning your loyalties.'
Mike responded gravely. 'Then Leo's not the only one.'
Toby raised his eyebrows.
'You've got it easy, Toby. You and everyone else in that room. You live at home, in your own country. You don't have to see America through the world's eyes.'
'I see America fine,' replied Toby, a little heatedly.
'Are you sure? Do you know what it's like to be an expatriate — a liberal American in a country like Australia?'
'What's liberalism got to do with it?'
'The hallmark of small-l liberalism in Australia is to be anti-American.'
'In Australia?' said Toby, flatly. 'The country that we bailed out in the Second World War?'
'Yes - Australia. The country which, during the Second World War referred to Americans as "overpaid, over-sexed and over here". The old timers haven't forgiven America for stealing their girls. The middle-aged ones won't forgive America for trying to teach their kids to say 'zee' instead of 'zed'. And the kids Keeley's age? All they have to do is look at our foreign policy and smoke starts coming out their ears — and its not drug-induced smoke, either. That's why I made sure the whole family came home with me this time. The girls need to reconnect, and Keeley needs as much reassurance about herself and her country as Sarah and I need. Australia's not an easy place for us to live.'
'But the government is so supportive,' mused Toby. 'Usually, that is.'
'I'm not talking about the government. I'm talking about ordinary people. Sarah's colleagues, our circle of friends. Keeley has come home from University in tears because it's all become too much for her. The posters, the protests. Flag burnings on campus that she doesn't know how to react to, because her principles and her patriotism are pulling her in two different directions. She says it's as though she isn't acceptable to society anymore, because of her citizenship. It's tearing her apart.'
Toby sighed. 'I don't get it. It's Australia. It's western. It's a major trade partner. All this sounds ridiculous.'
'It's not ridiculous. You heard Richard and Diane talking about the trade issue. They're right. The US can't simply expect everyone else to follow rules we won't follow ourselves. The right to bear arms is all very well - but compare the gun deaths per capita with any country that has gun control laws. Freedom of speech is great — we could do with a delineated right to freedom of speech in Australia — but what about when it results in vilification that goes unchecked? We've got to step back and look at our country through someone else's eyes.' Mike's voice had become louder and louder as he went on, and other patrons in the restaurant were beginning to take notice. Not only was his volume attracting attention, but his odd, semi-Australian accent was causing comment. Toby sat still, waiting for Mike to continue. He did, lowering his voice. 'I love this country, Toby. You know I do. It's my country, with all its faults and glories. But you can only love this country for so long before you begin to hate it. I hate our arrogance, our self-indulgence, our insularity. And love-hate relationships take up a hell of a lot of energy. So much so that you start wondering whether it's worth it.'
Toby contemplated this in silence as Mike picked up his sandwich. After a minute or two, Toby signalled the waitress to bring over some more coffee.
'Mike,' he said, puzzled. '"Small-l" liberals. There's a difference?'
Mike looked up, surprised at the change in tone. 'Capital-l Liberals are the conservative party,' he explained.
'I was right — Australians don't speak English.'
Sam stood in the door of the outer office, waiting for Charlie. He looked across the hall into the Roosevelt Room. Leo looked stressed, Toby an odd combination of bored and furious. Roger Tribbey, as always, looked out of his depth, shuffling papers and gulping at his coffee. They'd been back in negotiations for an hour, but it didn't look like much progress had been made. Sam chuckled under his breath. It didn't seem as if anyone had made much progress during the day. He had spent the day putting together the Administration's position on the Federal Court ruling, and yet this niggling unease had never left him. He hoped the President had done some thinking on the issue as well - it would make it far easier when the time came to convince President Bartlet that the only available course of action was to accept the ruling. After that, they would have to do their best to convince the Republicans, behind the scenes, that the ruling was correct. Sam didn't envy the President his decision — if he found his legal knowledge and his logic battling against the remnants of a religious upbringing, the President would be finding the question even harder to answer.
Sam turned around to face Charlie, who had come in from the Oval Office. 'Charlie. Do you know how things are going in there?' he asked, gesturing over his shoulder towards to the negotiations.
'Haven't heard anything since lunch. Was that what you wanted?'
'No…Toby told me the President had you doing some research on the pledge — something about the Pilgrims?'
'That's right.' Charlie nodded, gesturing towards the large leatherbound books at the edge of his desk. 'I could get asthma from the dust.'
'I'll help you sue the government under OSHA some day. Have you come across anything interesting?'
'Nothing I didn't already know. The pledge is something that everyone is supposed to be able to say, with their hand over their heart, to the flag, as an oath. It's how we say we are American. But as it is, the pledge assumes that everyone believes that there is a God.' Charlie shrugged. 'That assumption is fundamentally opposed to the first amendment. I keep coming back to the fact that the Pilgrims left England in order to practice their religion in a way they weren't permitted to at home.'
Charlie paused, and Sam commented, 'In fact, they wanted to practice it more conservatively than they could at home.'
'Which explains a lot,' said Charlie. 'But if this country was founded on freedom of religion, that has to include the freedom to not have a religion.'
'I agree,' said Sam. He nodded slowly, then raised an eyebrow. 'I bet the Pilgrims would agree with the Republicans, though.'
'Yeah, but they're dead,' said Charlie, pragmatically.
'By the way,' added Charlie, 'Senior staff at 4pm.'
At four in the afternoon, the senior staff began to gather outside the Oval Office. Josh filled Sam in on Donna's questions about the World Cup. Toby and Leo arrived from the trade talks in the Roosevelt Room.
'How's it going in there?' asked CJ, leaning against Mrs Landingham's old desk.
'They're right, we're wrong, but we can't say so because no one who votes in this country will agree,' said Toby.
'That's not quite accurate,' said Leo. Toby stared at him for a moment. Leo shrugged. 'Okay, it's accurate.'
'Why can't the voters like what's right?' quipped Josh. Everyone else chuckled ruefully.
The door to the Oval Office opened and Charlie came into the outer office. 'He's ready for you.'
The staff filed in and Charlie followed them, standing quietly by the door while the others clustered close to the President's desk. The President was sitting behind his desk, leaning back in his chair. He flipped through the last few pages in a folder, then tossed it onto his desk and looked up. 'Mario's going to cook kangaroo fillet for me tonight. In honour of our soon-to-be trade partners. They are going to be our trade partners, right?'
'We hope so, sir,' said Leo.
'Have any of you ever tasted kangaroo?'
'I have,' said Sam. 'It's nice.'
'I'll hold you to that, Sam. If I don't like it, it's your fault.'
'I hope you enjoy it, sir.'
Bartlet nodded, then changed the subject. 'The trade talks.'
'We made some minor progress this afternoon, but there's still a lot to be hammered out over the next few months,' said Leo.
'And someone needs to brief the Agriculture Secretary and his staff on the World Trade Organisation. I'm not sure Tribbey realises it exists,' added Toby.
'This will all be in a report on your desk first thing tomorrow,' said Leo. 'Barring the comments about Secretary Tribbey,' he added, with a sidelong look at Toby.
'Good. Josh — the situation in Minnesota?'
'Six deaths confirmed: four students, one teacher, and one cafeteria worker who heard the first shots and came to help. The shooter is out of surgery, and is stable, but critical. However, it's likely he'll survive, and then we're going to have to deal with criminal charges. Oh, and everyone left of centre now hates me because I had to squash discussion of legislative action.'
'I wish we hadn't had to do that, Josh, but with an election coming up, I don't want to go head to head with the NRA.'
'No one wants to go head to head with the NRA. Someday, someone is going to have to do it.'
'Wait until we're all out of the White House, Josh.'
Josh smiled wryly, and Bartlet returned the look sympathetically.
Leo caught the President's eye. 'Sir, there's still the matter of the Pledge?'
'Yeah,' said Bartlet slowly. 'You know, Thomas Jefferson once said the following: "It does me no injury for my neighbour to say there are twenty gods or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg." It does me no injury,' Bartlet repeated.
He stood up and walked to the window. The staff waited for him to speak again. Finally, he turned around.
'I've spent a lot of time today thinking about this. Personally, I don't see how you can take God out of life. The way I see it, we are one nation under God. How we think of God will differ, and that's not just about whether I'm Christian and Toby is Jewish. CJ and I - we're both Catholic.' CJ smiled and acknowledged the fact with a nod of her head. 'But I suspect that at times, if not all the time, CJ and I think of God in completely different ways. Whether we say it or not, we are one nation, under God,' he repeated. 'And I wonder whether we really need to say it.' He paused. 'The Federal Court is right. If it's unconstitutional, we should get rid of it.'
'Sir,' said Toby, slowly, 'You realise how that will play?'
'Oh, I know how it will play, Toby,' replied the President. 'Right into Richie's hands.'
'This is worse than flag-burning. We would lose Democrats as well as Republicans…the only people we wouldn't offend would be committed atheists and the most liberal of Christians.'
'And anyone who suspects that the 'God' in the pledge might not refer to their God,' added CJ.
'We're in a bind, Mr President,' said Sam. 'We don't want to criticise the court, but to openly support the decision would cause us huge problems. And saying nothing won't help us, either.'
'Ideas, people?' asked Leo.
'To speak publicly against the court would be a violation of the separation of powers,' said Josh.
'That takes care of that one.'
'Can we extend that to the concept of supporting the court?' asked CJ.
'Carefully worded, yes,' said Toby.
'I'm still uncomfortable with this,' said Sam. 'The Court is right. We're back-pedalling because we're scared. Aren't we supposed to be trusting to the intelligence of the American people?
Bartlet nodded. 'I agree, Sam. How about this: you and CJ, put together a statement coming from me. Use the Jefferson quote, the press will expect that from me. Point out the constitutional angle, but make it clear that, while we will not act in any way regarding this court ruling, the President personally feels that freedom of religion also entails freedom to not have a religion. However, we will leave this case to the appeals process.' In the corner of the room, Charlie was smiling. 'In any case, should we really be getting this concerned over a Federal Circuit ruling?'
'Should that last sentence go into the statement, Mr President?' asked CJ.
Bartlet looked at CJ. The look was all that was necessary. 'Does that satisfy everyone?'
Nods of various levels of enthusiasm came from each of the senior staff.
'Sam's right, it's an impossible situation. This is probably the best way out. Even so…there's something Mike Larkin said to me today. We've got to step back from the flag and the pledge and apple pie and Saturday Evening Post patriotism,' he continued, his voice rising, 'and we need to find some way of being Americans that isn't pure arrogance.'
'Seeing ourselves as others see us, Toby?' said the President, nodding. 'We really must make the effort to do that. And not just when foreign delegations manage to shake us out of our complacency.'
'Couldn't we just challenge the world to a soccer match?' said Josh. 'Then, when every other country in the world beats us, they'll feel better. We won't care, because we don't watch soccer.'
Sam laughed, but CJ and Toby just looked puzzled.
'You know,' said the President, 'that may not be such a bad idea. The only problem is, the US team just reached the second round of the World Cup.'