Designated survivor

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A designated survivor (or designated successor) is a member of the United States Cabinet who is appointed to be at a physically distant, secure, and undisclosed location when the President and the country's other top leaders (e.g., Vice President and Cabinet members) are gathered at a single location, such as during State of the Union addresses and presidential inaugurations. This is intended to maintain continuity of government in the event of a catastrophic occurrence which kills many officials in the presidential line of succession. Were such an event to occur, killing both the President and Vice President, the surviving official highest in the line, possibly the designated survivor, would become the Acting President of the United States under the Presidential Succession Act.[1]


The practice of naming a designated survivor originated during the Cold War amid fears of a nuclear attack. Only Cabinet members who are eligible to succeed to the presidency (i.e., natural-born citizens over the age of 35) are chosen as designated survivors. For example, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright was not a natural-born citizen (having immigrated to the United States at age 9 from Czechoslovakia) and was thus skipped in the official line of presidential succession. The designated survivor is provided presidential-level security and transport for the duration of the event. An aide carries the nuclear football with them. However, they are not given a briefing on what to do in the event that the other successors to the presidency are killed.[2]

Since 2005, members of Congress have also served as designated survivors. In addition to serving as a rump legislature in the event that all of their colleagues were killed, a surviving Representative and Senator could ascend to the offices of Speaker of the House and President Pro Tempore of the Senate, offices which immediately follow the Vice President in the line of succession. If such a legislative survivor were the sitting Speaker or President Pro Tempore – as for the 2005, 2006, and 2007 State of the Union addresses, in which President Pro Tempore Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) or Sen. Robert Byrd (D-West Virginia) was also a designated survivor – he or she would become the acting president rather than the surviving Cabinet member. However it is unclear whether another legislator could do so without first being elected to that leadership position by a quorum of their respective house.

For the 2010 State of the Union Address, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan was the designated survivor. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was also absent from the address. However, Secret Service rules prevented Clinton from being named the designated survivor since it was public knowledge that she was at a conference in London during the event.[3] Had a calamity occurred in Washington, Clinton (not Donovan) would have become Acting President, as her office is higher in the line of succession.[4]

List of some designated survivors[edit]

See also[edit]

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ Vacancy in offices of both President and Vice President; officers eligible to act: 3 U.S.C. § 19
  2. ^ Knoller, Mark (January 30, 2007). "One Night Spent A Heartbeat Away". CBS News. 
  3. ^ Kamen, Al. "Hillary Clinton will be in London for State of the Union". Washington Post. Accessed 3 February 2010.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z Cabinet members who did not attend the State of the Union address
  5. ^ a b c d 1981, 1989, 1993, 2001, and 2009 speeches were given by incoming Presidents and not formal "State of the Union" addresses
  6. ^ a b Hershey, Jr., Robert D. (27 January 1988). "State of Union: Bewitched by Pageant". New York Times. Retrieved 13 February 2013. 
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab "Cabinet members who did not attend the State of the Union Address (since 1984)". United States Senate Historical Office. 
  8. ^ 1984: UPI, "Washington Dateline." Jan 25, 1984
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac Rachel Weiner (February 12, 2013). "Steven Chu is the State of the Union 'designated survivor'". Washington Post. 
  10. ^ Gainesville Sun Gainesville Sun - Jan 21, 1985
  11. ^ 1985: UPI, "Washington News." Feb 6, 1985
  12. ^ 1986: UPI, "Washington News." Feb 4, 1986
  13. ^ 1987: UPI, "Washington News." Jan 28, 1987
  14. ^ 1990: Washington Post, Page C3. Jan 31, 1991
  15. ^ 1991: Washington Post, Page C3. Jan 31, 1991
  16. ^ 1996: USA Today, Page A12. Feb 5, 1997
  17. ^ 1997: Washington Post, "Agriculture's Glickman Draws Doomsday Duty for Address." Page A13. Feb 4, 1997
  18. ^ 1999: New York Times, "Not Being Invited Was the Honor." Page B2. Jan 21, 1999
  19. ^ 2000: Washington Post, "The Reliable Source." Page C3. Jan 28, 2000
  20. ^ 2001: New York Times, "Cabinet's 'Designated Absentee' Stays Away." Page A23. Jan 30, 2002
  21. ^ 2002: New York Times, "Cabinet's 'Designated Absentee' Stays Away." Page A23. Jan 30, 2002
  22. ^ 2003: New York Times, "Ashcroft in Secret Spot During Bush Address." Jan 29, 2003
  23. ^ 2004: AP, "Four to Miss Speech Due to Security." Jan 20, 2004
  24. ^ a b c For the 2005, 2006, and 2007 State of the Union addresses, the President Pro Tempore of the Senate would have been the highest-ranking survivor.
  25. ^ 2005: New York Times, "Five Officials Skip State of the Union Address." Feb 2, 2005
  26. ^ 2006: Philadelphia Inquirer, "A Message of Energy, Strength." Feb 1, 2006.
  27. ^ 2007: Washington Post, "The Reliable Source." Page C3. Jan 25, 2007.
  28. ^ 2008: AP, "Interior Secretary Skips Speech," Jan 28, 2008
  29. ^ 2009: AFP American Edition, "Gates to Sit out Obama Inauguration," January 19, 2009
  30. ^ Gates To Be Designated Successor On Inauguration Day, CBS News, January 19, 2009.
  31. ^ Holder Staying Away From Obama's Speech, Washington Post, February 24, 2009.
  32. ^ Energy secretary skips Obama health care address
  33. ^ O'Keefe, Ed (25 January 2011). "State of the Union: Ken Salazar to serve as 'designated survivor'". The Washington Post. Retrieved 26 January 2011. 
  34. ^ Associated Press (24 January 2012). "State of the Union: Tom Vilsack to serve as Cabinet's ‘designated survivor". Washington Post. Retrieved 24 January 2012. 
  35. ^ "Shinseki absent from inaugural". Miami Herald. 22 January 2013. Retrieved 22 January 2013. [dead link]
  36. ^ "Energy Secretary to be Designated Survivor during State of the Union". FOX News. January 28, 2014. 
  37. ^ Miller, Zeke J (28 January 2014). "This Man Will Be Your President If The Worst Happens Happens". Time. Retrieved 29 January 2014. 

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