In the United States, a designated survivor (or designated successor) is a named individual in the presidential line of succession, chosen to stay at an undisclosed secure location, away from events such as State of the Union addresses and presidential inaugurations. The practice of designating a successor is intended to prevent a hypothetical decapitation of the government and to safeguard continuity in the office of the president in the event the president along with the vice president and multiple other officials in the presidential line of succession die in a mass-casualty incident. The procedure originated in the 1950s during the Cold War with its risk of nuclear attack.
If such an event occurred, the surviving official highest in the line of succession as delineated in the Presidential Succession Act of 1947 would become Acting president of the United States. Consequently, the individual named as a designated survivor must be eligible to serve as president. In practice, the designated survivor is usually a member of the president's Cabinet, and is chosen by the president.
The process for selection of the designated survivor has been described by those involved to be entirely random. However, the character of the event for which a designated survivor is being selected may cause some officials to be avoided in the selection process.
List of designated survivors
Portrayal in media
- In The West Wing episode He Shall, from Time to Time..., Josh Lyman is instructed to "pick a guy" (referring to the designated survivor) for when the President gives his State of the Union Address. Ultimately, Secretary of Agriculture Roger Tribbey is chosen.
- The role was the focus of the 2016 political drama series Designated Survivor, in which Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Tom Kirkman (Kiefer Sutherland) is sworn in as president following a terrorist attack that destroys the United States Capitol.
Notes and references
- Seth Millstein (6 February 2019). "How Is The Designated Survivor Chosen? Rick Perry Won't Be At The 2019 SOTU". Bustle.
CBS News reports that the president and their staff are responsible for selecting the designated survivor, and Jon Favreau, Barack Obama's former lead speechwriter, spoke to The Ringer about the designated survivor selection process in 2016. Favreau initially said that the process is "entirely random," but then backtracked a bit and said that sometimes, the designated survivor depends on what the president intends to say in their speech.
- 1981, 1989, 1993, 2001, 2009, 2017 and 2021 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". The New York Times. Retrieved 13 February 2013.
- "Cabinet Members Who Did Not Attend the State of the Union Address". www.presidency.ucsb.edu.
- "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'". The Washington Post.
- "Gainesville Sun - Google News Archive Search". news.google.com.
- 1985: UPI, "Washington News." Feb 6, 1985
- 1986: UPI, "Washington News." Feb 4, 1986
- 1987: UPI, "Washington News." Jan 28, 1987
- Cillizza, Chris. "The story of a real-life 'Designated Survivor'". The Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 2021-01-20.
- 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: The 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
- "Designated survivor prepares". KMGH. 2017-01-19. Retrieved 2020-02-05.
- "Designated survivor prepares". WGBA. 2017-01-19. Retrieved 2020-02-05.
- 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: The New York Times, "Five Officials Skip State of the Union Address." Feb 2, 2005.
- 2006: The 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, The 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". The 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. Archived from the original on January 30, 2014. Retrieved 29 January 2014.
- "Obama's 'designated survivor:' Anthony Foxx". USA Today. January 20, 2015.
- Jackson, David (20 January 2015). "O". NationalJournal. Archived from the original on 21 January 2015. Retrieved 20 January 2015.
- Shalby, Colleen (12 January 2016). "If #SOTU disaster strikes, Jeh Johnson ... or a Republican would become president". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 12 January 2016.
- Saenz, Arlette (January 12, 2016). "State of the Union: Jeh Johnson Named Designated Survivor". ABC News.
- Tribune, The Salt Lake. "Sen. Orrin Hatch acting as a designated survivor during inauguration". The Salt Lake Tribune. Archived from the original on 2017-09-05. Retrieved 20 January 2017.
- Weaver, Dustin (20 January 2017). "Jeh Johnson is designated survivor for inauguration". TheHill. Retrieved 20 January 2017.
- DeBonis, Mike; Johnson, Jenna (2017-01-24). "Trump to address a joint session of Congress on Feb. 28". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2017-04-03.
- "Philip Rucker on Twitter". Twitter. Retrieved 2017-02-28.
- "VA Secretary David Shulkin chosen as designated survivor". ABC News.
- Westwood, Sarah. "Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue State of the Union 'designated survivor'". Washington Examiner. Retrieved 2018-01-30.
- Klein, Betsy; Gray, Noah (February 5, 2019). "Energy Secretary Rick Perry is the designated survivor". CNN. Retrieved February 5, 2019.
- Choi, Matthew (February 4, 2020). "The State of the Union's designated survivor: Interior Secretary David Bernhardt". Politico. Retrieved February 4, 2020.
- "What to know about the "designated survivor" and State of the Union". www.cbsnews.com. Retrieved 2020-02-05.
- Kime, Patricia (January 20, 2021). "Who Was the Designated Survivor for the Inauguration? Outgoing Administration Doesn't Say". Military.com. Retrieved February 15, 2021.
- Due to COVID-19 protocols requiring limited attendance, most of the cabinet was not present for the speech and thus no formal designated survivor was named. United States Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen was the de facto designated survivor as the most senior person in the line of succession not present.
- Leonard, Ben. "No designated survivor for Biden's first joint address to Congress". POLITICO. Retrieved 2021-04-28.
- Webster, Patrick. Windows into The West Wing: Theoretical Approaches to an Ideal Presidency. McFarland. p. 16. ISBN 978-1-4766-8035-4.
- Cillizza, Chris (September 21, 2016). "The story of a real-life 'Designated Survivor'". Washington Post. Retrieved March 6, 2021.
- U.S. Senate's list of cabinet members who did not attend the State of the Union Address (since 1984)
- Cabinet Members Who Did Not Attend the State of the Union Address Reagan (1984) – Trump The American Presidency Project [online]. Gerhard Peters (database). Santa Barbara, California: University of California (hosted).