Madam president, p.9

Madam President, page 9


Madam President

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  Then, after a grueling trip to Asia in which she could barely stay awake for her bilateral meetings with defense ministers and foreign heads of state, she came home to Washington with what she was certain was the Avian flu. She was in bed for five days before Brian dared to ask if she could possibly be pregnant.

  “Only if I was raped by a stork,” she’d retorted.

  He’d actually winced at her remark.

  Nevertheless, she’d dragged herself from the bed and pulled a leftover home-pregnancy test out of her medicine cabinet. She’d peed on the stick and waited for the test to show that she was not pregnant so she could show Brian. When it came out positive, she threw it away and took another. And then she took another. After five pregnancy tests all said the same thing, she crumpled into a ball on the bathroom floor. When Brian came in and found her, she’d held up all five of the tests. He took them from her and placed them on top of the toilet bowl. He’d wiped her tear-stained face and carried her back to the bed. She couldn’t look at him. She wasn’t sure that either one of them could handle another loss. Brian lay next to her and wrapped his arms around her tightly. They stayed like that until the sun went down, and then he called in sick for both of them in the morning. They made an appointment to see Melanie’s fertility doctor at eleven. She didn’t even have an obstetrician, because she’d never stayed pregnant long enough to need one. They sat in the lobby with all of the other couples, who probably had very little in common with Melanie and Brian other than the desire to have a child regardless of the cost—monetary, physical, emotional, and otherwise. Melanie was afraid of every possible outcome that morning. She feared that between the five pregnancy tests she’d taken the day before and her morning appointment, she’d miscarried this pregnancy, too. She was also afraid that perhaps the tests were wrong, and she wasn’t even pregnant. But most of all, she feared that she was pregnant with another baby that wouldn’t survive. She was afraid to hope for anything other than heartbreaking news. She knew exactly what the doctor would say if she wasn’t pregnant.

  “Melanie, we know you can get pregnant. Keep trying.”

  She had decided that they were selling the cruelest kind of false hope she had ever encountered. Brian never complained, but she knew it was also taking a toll on him.

  “You should have married someone with younger ovaries,” she’d said to him on several occasions.

  The nurse who’d seen them for all of their appointments came out to retrieve them.

  “Dr. Fishbourne wants to visit with you first,” she said.

  Brian had nodded and pulled Melanie up by the hand. She felt like she was sleepwalking. The doctor was waiting for them in his office.

  “What’s going on, guys?”

  Brian spoke. “Melanie thought she had the flu, but after five days in bed, she took a pregnancy test.”

  “This was yesterday?” he asked.

  “Yes. And it was positive. Actually, there were five, and they were all positive.”

  “Do you remember when your last period was?”

  Melanie shook her head. “No idea. A while ago. I figured everything was still screwed up from the fertility treatments.”

  He jotted some note in her file and then looked up. “I’ll have a nurse take some blood from you, Melanie, and then I’ll be in to examine you.”

  Melanie had tried to numb herself against everything that would happen next. The nurse had her make a fist while she took blood. Then she undressed from the waist down and squeezed her eyes shut so she wouldn’t be tempted to look at the monitor while the doctor performed the ultrasound. She didn’t hear anything, and that alone was a bad sign. She felt a lump forming in her throat. She turned to look at Brian, and he was staring intently at the monitor.

  She shifted her gaze to Dr. Fishbourne’s face. He was smiling. “Melanie, I’d say you’re about thirteen and a half weeks pregnant.”

  Then he had turned up the volume on the giant ultrasound machine. The sound of a very fast heartbeat filled the room. The sound filled her with hope. Tears spilled from the corners of her eyes, and when she looked over at Brian, he was choked up, too.

  “How do we know that everything is OK?” she’d whispered.

  “It’s a good sign that you’re this far along. We’ll do all of the testing you want to do. There’s an early test that’s as accurate as an amnio. It will give you peace of mind. I can schedule it with some of my colleagues for later this week.”

  “Tomorrow,” Brian had insisted.

  “Tomorrow,” the doctor promised. “Congratulations,” he added.

  “Don’t say that yet,” Melanie pleaded.

  When the results came back one week later, the doctor assured her that everything was fine. He also asked if she wanted to know the sex. Melanie still refused to believe that she was having a baby, but when he’d said, “You’re having a son,” something inside her shifted. She realized at that moment that the whole undertaking was an exercise in losing control. She’d decided to do her best to be brave—for her son’s benefit.

  More than a month had passed, and the nausea and exhaustion were giving way to indigestion and a more general fatigue. She finished her lunch and pulled a blanket over herself. She had plenty of hours of travel ahead of her. No one would notice if she snuck in a short nap.



  Dale ducked into Marguerite’s office so she could have a conversation without being filmed by the CBS crew.

  “Marguerite, I’m going to go to the Women’s Museum with the president so I can be there for the interview with Richard and Lucy, unless you want to go?”

  “No, you go. I’ll get the VP interviews set up so she can do those as soon as you guys are back.”

  “Is there anything breaking that I need to prepare the president for before the interview?”

  “Everyone is covering the speech and the trouble it’s causing for the president with conservatives. Fox is running a banner that says ‘busting the base.’ ”

  “That’s not surprising. She can handle that. I like her language on the generational divide on social issues. She’ll broaden the discussion and call for tolerance of the entire spectrum of views on the life-versus-choice debate. Warren said that the polls show that every time she’s forced to defend herself against the Republican base, her numbers go up among women and independents.”

  “The deciders,” Marguerite joked. Whenever they wanted to make the case for the president or the vice president to do an interview or a media avail, they appealed to everyone’s desire to see the president’s political capital remain intact. Women tended to be the biggest group of swing voters, and not simply in general elections. They watched the most news and were the most persuadable on nearly every major policy debate. Dale and Marguerite had taken to simply calling them the “deciders.”

  “The president will do fine. Take a deep breath, Dale.”

  Dale smiled appreciatively at her deputy. “I’ve been called an idiot by the secretary of defense, and I’ve lost an anchor team in the West Wing only to find them in the Oval Office. There really isn’t too much more that can go wrong, is there?”

  “Don’t say that. You’re going to jinx us!”

  As if on cue, Dale’s assistant knocked on Marguerite’s door.

  “Adam Leary from Buzzfeed said that you’d want to take his call,” Clare said.

  “When have I ever wanted to talk to Buzzfeed?” Dale scoffed.

  Marguerite picked up the phone. “This better be good,” she demanded. Dale watched Marguerite’s face morph from annoyed to concerned. “I haven’t seen it. Send it to me. Isn’t her Facebook page private? How do you know it’s legit? OK, OK, fine. I’ll check it out as soon as you send it to me. I don’t know how long it will take me. I’ll call you back when I know something.”

  “What was that?” Dale asked.

  “Hang on.”

  “Marguerite, I have to get in the motorcade in ten minutes.”

“I’m waiting for his e-mail.”

  “What did he say?”

  “Buzzfeed is claiming that Penelope Kramer posted something snarky on her Facebook page about how today is the first time in her life she’s been proud to be Charlotte Kramer’s daughter.”

  “You are kidding me, right?”

  “Let’s see if it’s real before we freak out. I don’t think kids her age use Facebook anymore, anyway.”

  “It might be the only social medium she’s allowed to use.”

  The Secret Service was uncomfortable with the twins using social media. When the twins put up a fight and enlisted their parents’ support, the head of the Secret Service had argued that Twitter and Instagram offered too many details about the twins’ exact locations and could reveal security vulnerabilities. After extensive negotiations between the president, Peter, and the Secret Service, they’d finally agreed to let the twins use Facebook.

  Clare stuck her head into Marguerite’s office again.

  “Dale, Craig is holding for you, and Marguerite, I have CNN, AP, and Politico holding. Do you want any of them?”

  “No!” shouted Dale.

  “No to Craig?”

  “No, yes to Craig. I’ll get it in here. No to the others until we know what the hell is going on.”

  “Hi,” Dale said to Craig, trying to sound calm.

  “How’s it going with CBS?” he asked.


  “Just checking.”

  “How does the president think it’s going?”

  “She’s having more fun than she’ll admit.”

  “That’s good.” Dale was peering over Marguerite’s chair to catch a glimpse of the e-mail from Adam.

  “I heard you lost Lucy and Richard.”

  “Not exactly. The president brought them up from the Situation Room with her, and we temporarily misplaced them.”

  “In the Oval?”

  “Was she upset?”

  “I assured her that it wouldn’t happen again.”

  “It won’t.”


  “What?” She could barely hide her impatience.

  “Is there anything else cooking?”

  “Not that I know of. Why?”

  “Just checking.”

  Dale considered telling Craig about the possibility of a social media crisis with the first daughter, but she’d learned to gather all of the information before she broke bad news to the White House chief of staff. She hung up before Craig detected anything else in her voice.

  “Marguerite, come on, come on. What do we know? I have to get in the motorcade in five minutes now.”

  “Here it is. It looks legit. I’m verifying with the Secret Service that this is actually her Facebook page.”

  They both stood behind Marguerite’s desk and read from her computer screen.

  “Everyone wants to know how it feels to be the president’s daughter and whether she’s inspired me like she’s inspired countless other young women and girls who will grow up thinking that they can be the president. The truth is that I never feel that way. But today she’ll take a stand on an issue that affects every woman in this country. My mom has always believed in a woman’s right to choose, but she never had the courage to speak up before. When she does so today, she’ll be doing something far more important than any other speech she’s given to date. Today, for the first time in my life, I’m proud to be Charlotte Kramer’s daughter.”

  Dale read it a second time and then a third. She picked up a notepad and a pen. “Let’s go,” she ordered.

  Marguerite followed. They went straight into the chief of staff’s office and flashed fake smiles at the CBS crew in his waiting area.

  “We need to talk to Craig about something that’s still classified—it’s for a speech next week. We’ll be in there for less than two minutes,” Dale promised.

  Craig was working at his standing desk in the corner of the room. He finished typing an e-mail on the MacBook Pro that Dale recognized as his personal computer before he looked up.


  “We have a situation with Penelope Kramer,” Dale announced.

  “And this arose between the time I spoke to you two minutes ago and now?”

  “Yes,” Dale promised.

  She handed Craig the page that Marguerite had printed in her office. He read it quickly and then glanced at his watch. He buzzed his assistant.

  “Pick up, please. Ben, please tell Sam that Dale, Marguerite, and I are coming down to see the president, and we need five minutes before we leave for the speech,” Craig instructed.

  He slipped into his jacket as they walked the fifteen paces to the Oval Office.

  The door was open, and Charlotte was skimming her speech when the three of them appeared in her doorway.

  “Madam President, we have a situation. It’s something we need to discuss with you before we depart for the Women’s Museum.”

  “What is it?” she asked.

  “We’re getting press calls about this, and we wanted you to be aware.”

  Craig handed her the printout, and Dale watched the color drain from the president’s face as she read Penny’s post.



  Charlotte finished reading Penny’s Facebook post and folded the paper in half and then in half again. She looked up at where Craig, Dale, and Marguerite hovered near the door.

  “Madam President?” Craig offered.

  “How much time until we leave for the Women’s Museum?” she asked.

  “I can push the speech back half an hour, Madam President.”

  “I think that’s a good idea. Can you all give me a minute, please?”

  They exited her office.

  She walked to her desk and dialed Peter’s extension in the residence. She forced herself to remain calm, but her teeth were clenched, and her overly caffeinated blood was starting to boil.

  “Can you come down here?”

  “What’s going on?” he asked.

  “Just come down here, please.”

  “I’m on my way.”

  Charlotte was fuming. It was bad enough that she’d overheard her husband and college-age daughter trashing her earlier, but now Penny had made it clear that she didn’t have a drop of respect for her. Charlotte was beyond exasperated. She was also embarrassed that Penny had chosen to lash out in such a public way. She paced her office and thought about all the different ways the press would put her on the couch and analyze her relationships with her kids. Penny had opened a Pandora’s box. In her petulant eighteen-year-old mind, she’d simply inserted herself into a debate about abortion while taking a jab at her mother. But the press would quickly forget the narrow context of her Facebook statement. Everything she posted on Facebook and said in public or to her friends would now be fair game for press scrutiny. Penny was a summer intern at Google, and Charlotte wondered if her supervisor would consider her a distraction from the rest of the intern class and dismiss her. It would serve her right, Charlotte decided.

  “What’s going on?” Peter asked, stepping into the Oval Office. Charlotte handed him the folded-up piece of paper. Peter pulled out his phone and started to punch in Penny’s number as soon as he’d read it.

  “Don’t,” Charlotte protested.

  “Why not? She needs to fix this, Char.”

  “Fix it? She can’t ‘fix’ this, Peter. This will be the news today. The fact that Penny is proud to be our daughter for the first time in her life—sorry, my daughter—will be the only story today. I’ve spent eighteen years protecting her from the prying eyes of the press, and now, in one bitchy post on Facebook, she has exposed herself to every critical, petty, and unforgiving reporter and pundit in the country, not to mention changing the topic from women’s rights to herself.”

  “Maybe then she’ll have a better understanding of everything you put up with.”

  Charlotte turned away from Peter so that he couldn’t see how undone she was. Sh
e took a deep breath and lowered her voice to a near whisper.

  “I thought you had a conversation with her specifically about this.”

  “I did, but I don’t control her. She’s her own person. She’s practically an adult.”

  “She’s going to feel like one tonight when she leads the network news.”

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