Designated survivor misses each State of the Union address

Posted at 5:03 PM, Feb 07, 2023

The annual State of the Union address is attended by nearly every high-ranking government officeholder, including members of Congress, Supreme Court justices and cabinet officials.

But at least one member of President Joe Biden’s cabinet will not be in attendance. Labor Secretary Marty Walsh will be this year's cabinet member to sit out.

Walsh will sit out in case of an incident at the U.S. Capitol. Although security at the Capitol is heightened for the State of the Union address, officials take no chances.

This was especially true following the attack on America on Sept. 11, 2001. Just nine days after the attack, President George W. Bush spoke to a joint session of Congress. While normally, the president is joined by the vice president for such addresses, because of the security situation at the time, Vice President Dick Cheney was not in attendance.

Last year, Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo was the designated survivor. In 2021, when Biden delivered an address to a joint session of Congress, no designated survivor was named as many cabinet members were not at the Capitol due to COVID-19 restricting attendance.

Since 1947, cabinet secretaries are formally on the line of succession to the presidency, behind the vice president, speaker of the House, and president pro tempore of the Senate. From 1886-1947, only the vice president was on the presidential line of succession.

Times of vice presidential vacancies could make for precarious situations if a president could not do their job. For instance, following the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt, President Herbert Hoover remained without a vice president for over three years after he ascended to the presidency. It was during this time Congress passed the Presidential Succession Act. Had Hoover been unable to fulfill his duties, it is unclear what would have happened to the presidency.

In 1965, after President Lyndon B. Johnson went 14 months without a vice president, Congress passed the 25th Amendment, which allows Congress to pick a replacement vice president when there is a vacancy.

Behind Vice President Kamala Harris, Speaker Kevin McCarthy and Senate President Pro Tempore Patty Murray, Secretary of State Antony Blinken is next on the line of succession.

We know at least one cabinet member cannot serve as the designated survivor. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm was born in Canada and did not move to the United States until age 4. She is constitutionally illegible to become president as the presidency is only open to naturalized citizens at birth.