Hurry up, girls. Do your business,” Charlotte ordered.
The dogs ignored her and continued to sniff the grass in the exact spots where they’d peed the night before.
Charlotte had cleared her schedule until nine a.m. so she could watch the interviews from the residence. She’d decided to run the dogs out quickly after the first two interviews. She was eager to get back inside before the last one started.
The first segment had gone smoothly enough. Tara looked nervous, and Charlotte could tell the answers were rehearsed, but at least she hadn’t frozen up or said anything off the wall. Charlotte hoped the bar in the public’s mind was as low as hers. The second interview went better than the first. Tara repeated the same answers, but because the material was more familiar, she sounded less scripted doing so. Charlotte was beginning to think she’d been unnecessarily harsh on Ralph.
“Time’s up, girls. Cammie, you’re going to have to hold it until we go to work in a little bit.” Charlotte walked briskly from the South Lawn back to the residence with the dogs a few paces ahead of her. She hoped none of the press had seen her out there in her workout clothes. That would set off a round of stories about how she’d added a workout to her morning routine, which couldn’t be further from the truth.
Charlotte poured herself a second cup of coffee and sat back down at her desk in the study on the second floor. The third interview would air at eight a.m. when the audience was made of up almost entirely of women viewers. Charlotte hoped it would be the easiest. The regular anchor was out on maternity leave, so the woman with the title “newsreader” was conducting the interview. Charlotte didn’t know her and had never been interviewed by her, but she seemed pleasant when she read her two-minute news bursts at the top of each hour.
“Good morning, Madam Vice President,” she said. Her voice was so loud that Charlotte reached for the remote to lower the volume.
“Good morning. Thanks for joining me and my family for a little breakfast.” Tara looked more relaxed.
“Whose idea was it to invite all of us here for these interviews and why did you think something like this was necessary?” the newsreader asked.
Charlotte turned the volume back up and waited for Tara to answer.
Tara stared at her for a few seconds too long.
Uh oh, Charlotte fretted.
“I wanted all of you to have a chance to get to know our family a little better,” Tara finally said.
Atta girl, Charlotte said to herself.
“That’s really nice, but we’ve been trying for months now to spend some time with you so that our viewers could get to know you and your family. I’m just wondering if these interviews have anything to do with the spate of stories that have run in various papers recently speculating that you’re having problems with the adjustment to Washington.”
“No, of course not, Maria,” Tara said quickly.
“Marie,” she corrected.
“My name is Marie, not Maria.”
Tara’s eyes darted around the room.
Who cares what your stupid name is? Charlotte fumed.
“Marie, I’m so sorry about that. We just thought it was a good time to have y’all over for a bite and a chat about whatever was on all y’alls’ mind today,” Tara said with a forced smile.
“But what I’m asking is why now?” Marie pushed.
“No time like the present!” Tara chirped, a little too enthusiastically.
“Madam Vice President, how are you holding up?” Marie asked.
Tara looked around the room again.
Come on, Tara, just get back to your message points, Charlotte silently urged.
The wheels in Tara’s mind were churning so furiously that Charlotte half expected to see smoke rising from her head.
“No doubt, the vice presidency is a big job. And I wouldn’t deny the fact, Marie, that I have had a rough start. But what your viewers need to know is that I have always risen to the challenge, whether it was when I was in college or law school or the U.S. Attorney’s Office, and I have fought the fights that need to be fought.”
It’s ClassifedBy Nicole Wallace336 pages. Atria. $25.
Tara sounded like she was reading from cue cards that were just out of her line of vision. The network switched to a wide shot of the breakfast table. A slow-moving fly hovered above the egg dish, and the fruit salad and pastries looked as if they were sweating as much as the vice president. Marie looked as though she’d just stepped out of the air-conditioning, which she probably had.
“I heard you say that earlier this morning, and I’m just wondering what fights you waged in college and law school. Were you involved in many causes or political campaigns?”
“No, I meant that I fought my way through school and scraped by, and then fought my way into law school, and then fought my way into the DA’s Office and the U.S. Attorney’s Office.” Tara was starting to sound exasperated.
Damn, Charlotte thought. Why couldn’t she just do one interview? This young reporter has been sitting in a van somewhere watching Tara offer the same answers to the previous anchors. She’s showing them the benefits of going last.
“What you’re saying is that your ambition is what has always powered you through difficult times?”
“No, I mean, I guess. I don’t know. I just wanted to do well, you know?”
The reported nodded and stared down at her notepad.
“What issues has President Kramer entrusted you with?”
“What do you mean?”
“Your predecessor took the lead on most of the domestic issues to allow President Kramer to focus on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. I’m curious what your portfolio looks like, particularly in light of the economic challenges we’re facing."
“I, uh, I work on everything.”
“There’s nothing specific that the president turned over to you and said, ‘Do whatever you think is best—I’ll follow your lead?’ ”
Tara looked stumped. After taking what felt like five minutes to think about the question, Tara shook her head. “None I can think of,” she said.
In the wide-angle shot the network was running, Charlotte noticed that Marcus was shifting uncomfortably in his seat and even Kendall looked unnerved.
“I ask you this question, Madam Vice President, because one of the criticisms of you among members of Congress is that you often seem stumped by their policy questions, and I’m wondering if perhaps that’s because the president has asked you to focus on a few key areas and leave the rest to her?”
Tara stared blankly at Marie.
Charlotte picked up the phone.
“Please get Ralph on the line for me.”
“Yes ma’am?” he replied seconds later.
“I want this to stop. Now.”
“Yes ma’am. I don’t know what happened. Dale assured me that these would all be like the last two, and—”
“Stop. Just stop. Meet me in the Oval Office in twenty minutes.”
When she hung up, she was breathing heavily enough to pique the dogs’ interest. “Shhh,” she said to them when all three came closer. She returned her attention to the television set. Cammie leaned against her while she watched.
“I’m sorry, what was the question?” Tara asked.
“It’s okay, we can move on. Madam Vice President, I have a few more questions for you, and I have to ask you a favor. Your folks have been giving me ‘wrap it up’ signals practically since I started, but I wonder if you might indulge our millions of viewers with a few more minutes of your time.”
Tara looked like she was in shock.
“Sure,” she said meekly.
“Can you tell our viewers what the most difficult thing is about making this move with your young family to a city you don’t know, and taking on the responsibilities of the vice presidency for a president you hardly know who is a member of a political party you don’t belong to.”
Tara stared at Marie for so long that the reporter asked if she needed the question repeated.
“Marie, I would have to say that the most difficult thing is, well, moments like this, when I have no idea where to begin to answer that question.”
“Your honesty is refreshing, Madam Vice President. Why don’t you start by telling us how it is to be part of a Republican administration?”
“It’s great. I mean, I was always really in the middle, and Charlotte and I agree on just about everything.”
“Can you name one area where you disagree?”
“No, nothing comes to mind.”
“Madam Vice President, have you and the president ever discussed abortion?”
“No. I mean, I know she is, I mean, no. We haven’t discussed it.”
Tara looked like she didn’t even realize she was still on television.
“If a Supreme Court seat opened, could you support someone who thought Roe was wrongly decided?”
“No,” Tara said.
“Okay, well, I have more really good questions, but I just noticed that your staff is about to cut the power to our camera. Thank you so much for your time. This is Marie Mendes, reporting live from the Naval Observatory, the official residence of Vice President Tara Meyers and her family. We’ll be right back.”
As soon as it ended, her assistant, Sam, appeared in Charlotte’s study in the residence. Charlotte felt like she was a hundred years old.
“Hi, Sam. I’ll be in the Oval Office in ten minutes. Is there anything I need to deal with before I walk over?”
“You have some urgent calls, ma’am. The Speaker called and wants to speak to you right away and the press office wants to see you immediately to get guidance on what to say to reporters who are asking if you were watching the interviews. Oh, and Melanie called and offered to come over.”
“Did you see it?” Charlotte asked.
“Yes ma’am,” Sam replied.
“Was it as bad as it seemed?”
“I don’t know, ma’am. Do you want me to get Melanie on the line?”
“Sam, come on. It was awful. You thought it was a disaster, didn’t you?”
“She looked a tad uncomfortable, ma’am,” Sam replied reluctantly.
Charlotte knew that whatever had gone awry in her first term was going to feel like a joy ride compared to what was about to unfold. Until the interviews, questions about Tara’s abilities and competence could be brushed away as partisan sniping. But now that she’d laid bare her insecurities and obvious uncertainty about her role and function as Charlotte’s number two, there were few palatable options for a comeback.
“Please get Melanie on the line,” she asked Sam.
The phone rang seconds later.
“Was it as bad as I think it was?” Charlotte asked Melanie.
“What happens now?”
“I’m not sure.”
“What’s your best guess?”
“I need to think about it.”
“Call me back when you’ve worked out the best- and worst-case scenario.”
“I will, Madam President, I will.”
Sam had picked up the other phone in the study.
“Ma’am, the secretary of state is on the line to confirm that you are still planning to depart tonight for the Asia trip. Would you like to speak to her?”
“Tell them you’ll call them back when you know whether I’m still going on the Asia trip tonight.”
”Copyright © 2011 by Nicolle Wallace, from IT’S CLASSIFIED published by Atria Books, a Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.