Published: Wed, February 06, 2019
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Rick Perry is the designated survivor during SOTU address

Rick Perry is the designated survivor during SOTU address

By tradition, one Cabinet secretary is closeted away at a secure, undisclosed location to ensure continuity of government in case disaster strikes while government leaders attend the speech.

The macabre but important ritual keeps one cabinet-level official out of sight on State of the Union night and out of harm's way.

"It has to be someone in the line of succession and acting people aren't in the line of succession", said Chris Lu, who served as Cabinet secretary in the Obama White House and helped select designated survivors for several speeches during that administration. He made two unsuccessful bids for the Republican nomination for president, in 2012 and 2016. That matters because the designated survivor, by law, must be a Senate-confirmed Cabinet member.

But this year, the pool of eligible survivors is a bit shorter than usual due to multiple vacancies in the president's cabinet.


Perry, Texas' second-longest-serving governor, was a onetime political rival to Trump. Trump's choice this year was limited by the number of "acting" secretaries in the Cabinet. That means that Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao can't be the designated survivor, because as a naturalized citizen, she is ineligible for the presidency. Follow the 9/11 attacks, Congress devised its own version of the designated survivor.

Patrick Shanahan now serves in the role of acting Defense Secretary.

He would also try not to ask a Cabinet official to sit out a speech a few times, and Lu said he wanted to showcase the gender diversity of the Obama Cabinet, so a woman did not serve as designated survivor during Obama's speeches.

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