In the United States, a designated survivor (or designated successor) is an individual in the presidential line of succession, usually a member of the United States Cabinet, who is arranged 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 guarantee continuity of government in the event of a catastrophic occurrence that kills the President and many officials in the presidential line of succession. If such an event occurred, 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.
The practice of naming a designated survivor originated during the Cold War with its risk of nuclear attack. Only Cabinet members who are eligible to succeed to the presidency (i.e., natural-born citizens over the age of 35, who have resided in the United States for at least 14 years) are chosen as designated survivors. For example, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright was not a natural-born citizen (having emigrated to the United States from Czechoslovakia) and was thus not in the line of presidential succession. The designated survivor is provided presidential-level security and transport for the duration of the event. An aide carries a 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.
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 that 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. Had a calamity occurred in Washington, Clinton (not Donovan) would have become Acting President, as her office was higher in the line of succession.
List of some designated survivors
In popular culture
- In the 1991 HBO original film By Dawn's Early Light, the US Secretary of the Interior becomes President of the United States following a Soviet first launch nuclear attack.
- In the TV show The West Wing, the episode "He Shall, from Time to Time..." features President Josiah Bartlet talking to Secretary of Agriculture Roger Tribbey in the Oval Office prior to leaving for his State of the Union address. The choosing of the designated survivors is shown at the start of the episode, generating some discussion about how it works.
- The 2016 TV series Designated Survivor stars Kiefer Sutherland as Tom Kirkman, the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. Kirkman becomes President after a terrorist attack during the State of the Union address kills the President, the Vice President, and every individual ahead of him in the line of succession.
- Decapitation strike
- National Command Authority
- Operation Looking Glass
- United States presidential line of succession in fiction
Notes and references
- Vacancy in offices of both President and Vice President; officers eligible to act: 3 U.S.C. § 19
- Knoller, Mark (January 30, 2007). "One Night Spent A Heartbeat Away". CBS News.
- Kamen, Al. "Hillary Clinton will be in London for State of the Union". Washington Post. Accessed 3 February 2010.
- Cabinet members who did not attend the State of the Union address
- 1981, 1989, 1993, 2001, and 2009 speeches were given by incoming Presidents and not formal "State of the Union" addresses
- Hershey, Jr., Robert D. (27 January 1988). "State of Union: Bewitched by Pageant". New York Times. Retrieved 13 February 2013.
- "Cabinet members who did not attend the State of the Union Address (since 1984)" (PDF). United States Senate Historical Office.
- 1984: UPI, "Washington Dateline." Jan 25, 1984
- Rachel Weiner (February 12, 2013). "Steven Chu is the State of the Union 'designated survivor'". Washington Post.
- Gainesville Sun Gainesville Sun - Jan 21, 1985
- 1985: UPI, "Washington News." Feb 6, 1985
- 1986: UPI, "Washington News." Feb 4, 1986
- 1987: UPI, "Washington News." Jan 28, 1987
- 1990: Washington Post, Page C3. Jan 31, 1991
- 1991: Washington Post, Page C3. Jan 31, 1991
- 1996: USA Today, Page A12. Feb 5, 1997
- 1997: Washington Post, "Agriculture's Glickman Draws Doomsday Duty for Address." Page A13. Feb 4, 1997
- 1999: New York Times, "Not Being Invited Was the Honor." Page B2. Jan 21, 1999
- 2000: Washington Post, "The Reliable Source." Page C3. Jan 28, 2000
- 2001: New York Times, "Cabinet's 'Designated Absentee' Stays Away." Page A23. Jan 30, 2002
- 2002: New York Times, "Cabinet's 'Designated Absentee' Stays Away." Page A23. Jan 30, 2002
- 2003: New York Times, "Ashcroft in Secret Spot During Bush Address." Jan 29, 2003
- 2004: AP, "Four to Miss Speech Due to Security." Jan 20, 2004
- 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.
- 2005: New York Times, "Five Officials Skip State of the Union Address." Feb 2, 2005
- 2006: Philadelphia Inquirer, "A Message of Energy, Strength." Feb 1, 2006.
- 2007: Washington Post, "The Reliable Source." Page C3. Jan 25, 2007.
- 2008: AP, "Interior Secretary Skips Speech," Jan 28, 2008
- 2009: AFP American Edition, "Gates to Sit out Obama Inauguration," January 19, 2009
- Gates To Be Designated Successor On Inauguration Day, CBS News, January 19, 2009.
- Holder Staying Away From Obama's Speech, Washington Post, February 24, 2009.
- Energy secretary skips Obama health care address
- O'Keefe, Ed (25 January 2011). "State of the Union: Ken Salazar to serve as 'designated survivor'". The Washington Post. Retrieved 26 January 2011.
- Associated Press (24 January 2012). "State of the Union: Tom Vilsack to serve as Cabinet's 'designated survivor". Washington Post. Retrieved 24 January 2012.
- "Shinseki absent from inaugural". Miami Herald. 22 January 2013. Retrieved 22 January 2013.[dead link]
- "Energy Secretary to be Designated Survivor during State of the Union". FOX News. January 28, 2014.
- Miller, Zeke J (28 January 2014). "This Man Will Be Your President If The Worst Happens Happens". Time. Retrieved 29 January 2014.
- "Obama's 'designated survivor:' Anthony Foxx". USA Today. January 20, 2015.
- Jackson, David (20 January 2015). "O". NationalJournal. Retrieved 20 January 2015.
- Shalby, Colleen (12 January 2016). "If #SOTU disaster strikes, Jeh Johnson ... or a Republican would become president". LA Times. Retrieved 12 January 2016.
- Saenz, Arlette (January 12, 2016). "State of the Union: Jeh Johnson Named Designated Survivor". ABC News.
- U.S. Senate's list of cabinet members who did not attend the State of the Union Address (since 1984)
- August, Melissa (Jan 31, 1994). "The President -- Conceivably". Time magazine. Retrieved 2009-01-21.