This is good, Joshua Lyman thought to himself with only a hint of sarcasm as he took a minute to survey his situation. He was scheduled for a conference call in ten minutes—the beginning of which he was sure to miss, considering that the senator he was currently on the phone with had a chronic habit of changing any subject into a chance to rave about his grandchildren. Josh's desk was piled high with documents, most of which were marked 'urgent,' and he was trying valiantly to finish up a report for Leo in between speaking the expected responses of 'yes, sir' and 'I understand, sir' into the phone. This is good—I can do this, he repeated to himself encouragingly, having just finished up writing out the last of his points in the report for the Chief of Staff. As long as nothing else—
"Josh? You know you have a conference call in ten minutes, right?" Donna Moss said briskly from the doorway. Josh groaned when he saw that she was holding a four-inch thick stack of folders in her arms.
"I stopped myself!" he muttered indignantly to the ceiling, momentarily forgetting that he was still on the phone in his frustration at being caught tempting fate. Luckily, the man on the other line was now proudly relating what sounded like some sort of sports play-by-play, his voice so loud that the Deputy Chief of Staff had to hold the receiver a few inches from his ear.
'Who is it?' Donna mouthed to him as she settled the newest stack of paperwork onto the only clear area left on his desk. When he'd scrawled out the man's name on a scrap of paper, his assistant glanced quickly at her watch and walked around the desk to speak to him.
"Senator Stanton has a lot of respect for Leo—if you mention that Mr. McGarry is a part of the upcoming conference call…"
Josh barely heard the rest of her explanation as he carefully interrupted the senior senator and dropped his boss's name; Donna had been right—he was off of the phone in less than a minute. He was about to vault out of his seat and take a victory lap around his office for managing to extricate himself from such a sticky situation without having to send one of his colleagues the heads-up that someone important was probably pissed—but Donna was still standing next to his chair, looking expectant.
"You're welcome," she said cheekily, the minute he looked over at her and opened his mouth to speak.
"I wasn't going to thank you," he lied, scooting his chair farther back from his desk to distract her from looking at his face. She could always tell when—
"You're lying," the blonde woman said, matter-of-factly. Something told him she hadn't even bothered to look at him to gauge his reaction to such an accusation.
She knew him too well.
"Well, now you know I'm not gonna say it," Josh said, turning his chair to get up on the other side as it didn't appear that she'd be moving anytime soon. As he did so, he reached over and rescued his report for Leo out from under a toppled stack of folders. Josh stood; he was in the process of checking his watch to find out just how late he'd be to the scheduled call when he saw that Donna was again standing in front of him. He raised his eyebrows at her.
"What's a signing statement?" she asked, without preamble.
"Don't I have a conference call I'm late for?" he countered, "—and don't you have… things to do with all this paper?" Josh added as an afterthought, remembering vaguely an image of Donna standing in front of his desk saying something similar. Her only response was an icy silence, however. He attempted a weak smile, knowing that if he made any attempt to glance at his watch, he'd completely miss his appointment.
"You should have stopped at the conference call," she told him earnestly.
"Do you think so?" he asked with mock seriousness, leaning against the window and crossing his arms. He was totally unwilling to cede her any victory by walking around his own desk to get past her.
"Did you really want to be on the phone with the proud grandfather of Caleb, Simone, and Jayson?" she questioned, raising her own eyebrows at him in an expression he recognized all too well—and then it dawned on him.
Donna had a problem with something, and she wasn't going to let him leave until he cleared it up or someone dropped by with a national emergency.
"What's wrong with the signing statement?" he asked in a resigned voice. She didn't appear to be finished making her current point, however.
"I'm sure you know all about Caleb's sports stats and how Jayson is getting a new baby sister this year," she went on, clearly ignoring his question as she warmed to her subject. "Yet, Instead of leaving you in the lurch to listen to a bunch of irrelevant facts—"
"I'm sensing a theme, here," Josh interjected.
"—I ended up saving the day," she finished, placing her hands on her hips and shooting him a dark look.
"Yes, Donna, thanks to you I'll only be ten minutes late to the thing instead of five minutes early, for a change," he said sardonically.
"Do you even know where we're holding our end of the call?" she demanded. Josh stood up a little straighter, realizing that his blonde companion might actually have the upper hand. He ran his fingers through his hair and snuck a look out to the bullpen, hoping that Toby would be impatiently striding to his office to rescue him. No such luck.
"No-ot exactly, but that's what you came in here to tell me, right?" he offered with a smile, hoping his dimples could do what Toby could not.
"No, I came in here to ask you about—"
"Signing statements," he finished for her.
"This couldn't wait until after the conference call?"
"They probably haven't even started yet," she said, waving her hand in the air dismissively.
"They're probably waiting for—" he started to say indignantly, but Donna interrupted him.
"Ginger says they alter the law when the President signs it so that people don't have to actually follow what the law says, exactly," she said, looking distressed.
"Ginger probably told Toby where to be an hour ago," Josh muttered under his breath.
"Okay, look," he said, reaching out to physically move him out of his way as he started for the door. He knew she'd follow him as he walked to Leo's office, so he didn't bother to look back at her as he continued, "—a signing statement is nothing more than an official statement by the President made when he signs a bill into law. Sometimes it's just not worth pulling out a veto for something that's pretty much okay except for one thing—"
"So after all that work a President can just say 'but you don't actually have to follow this, or anything' and sign the bill?" Donna asked incredulously.
"They're not legally binding, Donna—they're the printed equivalent of saying 'okay, but I don't completely agree with you.'"
"In that case, I'm surprised you, Toby, and Leo don't attach signing statements to each other's memos all the time."
The two of them rounded the corner just as she said this, and Josh handed his documents to Margaret, glad to have a reason to ignore Donna's self-satisfied expression at her own joke.
"Donna, isn't there a conference call supposed to be going on sometime soon?" Margaret asked in a loud whisper. Donna looked as though she was about to answer, but Josh quickly steered her toward the nearest exit and began to walk toward his office.
"Signing statements aren't just about disagreeing," he said, slowing his pace so she could walk beside him this time. "Sometimes a President will add one to a bill with provisions that he thinks deserves special attention."
"Oh," Donna said, stopping in her tracks. "So just because President Bartlet plans on releasing a signing statement on the Family Wellness Act—"
"Well, technically you attach it, you don't release it," Josh said, turning to face Donna with a wry smile. "But, yes—he wants to ensure that certain parts of it aren't overlooked."
"Like some of the things that were added last-minute," she said sentimentally.
Josh had been going to tell her not to get emotional, but he could see that it was too late. He turned and walked away from her so she couldn't see the smile on his face; it was endearing, how predictable she could be sometimes.
"So, if the President can attach a signing statement to draw attention to something he thinks is important, does that mean he could thank the people that worked on the bill?"
…and incredibly unpredictable, sometimes, Josh thought to himself, shaking his head in confusion. He stopped at his office door and turned around, his brows furrowed as he looked at the blonde woman with the strangely hopeful look on her face.
"I…suppose so, yes," he said, cautiously.
"Could he thank specific people that helped to make the bill possible?"
Now her seemingly straight-from-left-field statement was beginning to make more sense.
"Again, technically, yes, but I don't think the public necessarily needs to know how well versed you are in senate bylaws," he teased, spinning around to head into his office before the indignant denials he was predicting could begin. Once more, however, she threw him a curve ball.
"Actually, I was thinking it might be nice to let the public know what Senator Stackhouse did for kids with Autism," she said softly behind him. With his back to her still, Josh smiled.
"That's a really great idea," he said.
"Of course, if the President wants to add that I helped come up with the idea that kept the filibuster going long enough to get that part added…"
"Don't I have a conference call that I'm incredibly, incredibly late for?" he said, moving to his desk and looking up at her with a mock serious expression.
"No, but if you want to wait another fifteen minutes—"
"Relax, Josh, they postponed it for a half hour," she said, grinning.
Josh just stared at her for a long minute.
"Again, did you really want to spend that time hearing about the illustrious lives of Senator Stanton's grandchildren?"
"Not particularly, but—"
"Then go over to the Mural Room and show up early for something for a change. Shoo!" Donna scolded, gathering up a stack of folders from his desk and heading out into the bullpen.
"That was it? Where are you going?" he asked her, feeling almost lost. Usually when his feisty assistant forcibly extracted information out of him it was because she wanted to be convinced it was the right thing to do, that it was something she would approve of as a voter.
Though, he supposed that it wouldn't hurt to meet with Leo and see if a few sentences could be added to the proposed signing statement.
"I have things to do, Josh," she said, her blonde hair swinging past her face as she looked over her shoulder at him and beamed. "Things with paper." With that, she headed out into the golden corridor and out of sight.