Disaster Relief (The West Wing)

Disaster Relief (The West Wing)
"Disaster Relief"
The West Wing episode
Episode no. Season 5
Episode 94
Directed by Lesli Linka Glatter
Written by Alexa Junge (teleplay)
Alexa Junge & Lauren Schmidt (story)
Production code 176056
Original air date November 5, 2003
Guest stars
Season 5 episodes
List of The West Wing episodes

"Disaster Relief" is episode 94 of The West Wing. This episode directly follows the events of the previous episode.


A national emergency is declared by Bartlet in light of a killer tornado in Oklahoma, a disaster which ends up occupying the president's time and attention for far longer than anticipated. The staff discuss an appropriate response to the tornado and a consensus is reached to send Vice President Russell to visit the affected area. C.J. thinks otherwise and convinces the president that he should fly to Oklahoma and lend his presence to the disaster relief efforts. He agrees and quickly flies down on Air Force One, along with Charlie and C.J., who promises to have him back within hours. Once Bartlet sees the destruction firsthand and consoles several shocked victims, he insists on staying overnight, the logistics of which require heightened security and dozens of hotel rooms for the president's entourage. The next morning, C.J., at the prodding of an exasperated Leo, convinces Bartlet to return to Washington because "these people need their town back." As they fly back to Washington on Air Force One, C.J. and the president have a heated discussion about his leadership and how Zoey's kidnapping has left him disoriented and in search of noble but ultimately ineffective efforts like his work in Oklahoma. C.J. snaps him out of it by reminding him of the dangerous times now facing Americans and the country's need for a strong leader. "I want my president back," C.J. tells him. "I need you to lead."

Meanwhile, Leo is left to manage several crises in the capital that need the president's immediate attention. The new Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Nicholas Alexander (Terry O'Quinn), tells Leo they should kill an expensive and unnecessary artillery system, but also warns Leo that Secretary of Defense Hutchinson is privately meeting with all Army generals who are in line to receive promotions. Leo confronts the Secretary and demands he stop politicizing the armed forces. Leo must also handle the impending arrival of the German Chancellor and a looming Greek-Albanian crisis (loosely based on the real Isla Perejil crisis).

Josh fears the worst after a political miscalculation costs the Democrats dearly. Leo tells him he won't be fired but will have his job responsibilities scaled back and that, in particular, the budget negotiations are being taken away from him and given to a new staffer, Angela Blake. The Republicans push for drastic budget cuts and are helped by fiscally-conservative Blue Dog Democrats. Vice President Russell, standing in for both the President and Josh, bungles a meeting with Republicans and nearly offers them a huge political concession. Sidelined and furious, Josh ends up railing at the heavens and screaming at the U.S. Capitol dome before he reaches more level personal ground near the episode's end. And Donna becomes concerned about Josh's welfare after he becomes Washington's latest target of scorn.

Also in this episode, Will Bailey begins working for the Vice President, much to Toby's dismay.


The Greek-Albanian crisis in this episode was quite close to what actually happened in January 1996 when there was a Turkey-Greek confrontation over the Aegean islet Imia. As in the episode, Imia was uninhabited except for sheep. See p. 305 of Vol II of "My Life" by Bill Clinton.

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