WASHINGTON - On Tuesday night, President Joe Biden will give the State of the Union address in front of almost every significant federal official in Washington, including members of Congress, senior military officers, justices of the U.S. Supreme Court, and members of his own administration.
However, one high-ranking person is not anticipated to attend Biden's speech because they are taking part in a mysterious ceremony that keeps the presidential succession plan in place in the unlikely event of a catastrophe. The chosen survivor is that person.
The designated survivor for Biden's first State of the Union speech was Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo last year, who stayed away from the Capitol in a secret location.
The National Constitution Center claims that due to worries about a nuclear attack during the Cold War, the custom of a selected survivor during the State of the Union speech started in the 1950s. However, the selected survivor was not publicly announced by the government until 1981, when Terrel Bell, the secretary of education under President Ronald Reagan, took on the role for a speech to a joint session of Congress.
The Presidential Succession Act of 1792, which was revised during the Truman administration into the Presidential Succession Act of 1947, establishes the presidential line of succession. President Franklin D. Roosevelt's death in 1945, which resulted in Harry Truman assuming the presidency, prompted the revision of the line of succession.
The speaker of the House, the president pro tempore of the Senate, the secretaries of State, Treasury, and Defense follow the vice president in the order of succession. The attorney general, who is sixth in the line of succession, has been the highest-ranking Cabinet member known to have been nominated to be the designated survivor, according to data examined by CNN. Three times, a head of the Justice Department has been chosen for the position.
With seven designations apiece, the interior and agriculture secretaries tie for the most frequent designated survivor appointments. Despite being lower on the succession ladder, neither Labor or Education secretary is known to have held the position of designated survivor.
Despite the political diversity of many of the selections, all three of the designated survivors who served as secretaries of Veterans Affairs did so while a Republican was in office. In contrast, Democratic presidents were the only ones to designate one of their secretaries from the departments of homeland security, health and human services, and transportation to speak as a designated survivor during the State of the Union address.
The National Constitution Center notes that although less well known, designated survivors have also been utilized at presidential inaugurations and speeches to joint sessions of Congress. According to the center, members of Congress have also been ordered not to attend the State of the Union address as a precaution.
If a higher-ranking successor survives a potential incident, that person takes over as president. Otherwise, a designated survivor must meet the requirements for the position. According to evidence given before Congress in 2003 by John Fortier, executive director of the continuity of government commission, acting Cabinet secretaries are eligible for the line of succession if they have been confirmed by the Senate for other positions. The designated survivor, however, cannot be a naturalized American citizen, such as Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm or Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, who are both now serving in that capacity.
Like Raimondo, the majority of designated survivors continue their regular schedules while avoiding the Capitol during the president's speech.
During her year as a designated survivor, Raimondo claimed that it had been "very boring," remaining outside of Washington "but performing my duties like any other day."