The designated survivor for this year’s State of the Union is Interior Secretary David Bernhardt. The designated survivor is a member of the president’s cabinet who does not attend the State of the Union address at the U.S. Capitol in case of a catastrophic event to keep the continuity of the government in tact.
Here’s what you need to know.
David Bernhardt Was Confirmed by the Senate to Become President Donald Trump’s Interior Secretary on April 11, 2019
David Bernhardt was confirmed by the Senate to be Interior Secretary on April 11, 2019.
According to his official government bio, Bernhardt “is an avid hunter and angler and recently served on the Board of Game and Inland Fisheries for the Commonwealth of Virginia. He also led the International Boundary Commission between the United States and Canada and was responsible, along with his Canadian counterpart, for maintaining the 5,525 mile international boundary between these two nations.”
He is from Rifle, Colorado and earned a B.A. in political science with a minor in business administration from the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley in 1990. He graduated with honors from the George Washington University National Law Center in 1994. He is married to Gena Bernhardt and they have two children.
Bernhardt previously served as Trump’s deputy secretary of the Department of the Interior, before replacing replaced Ryan Zinke.
Zinke served as Trump’s interior secretary from March 1, 2017 to January 2, 2019. Zinke left his post after being the subject of more than a dozen investigations from the Department of Interior’s Office of Inspector General. According to POLITICO, the probes include a land deal in Montana “that brought together Zinke and the chairman of Halliburton, one of the world’s largest energy companies, with extensive business before the Interior Department.”
Bernhardt also served as the Interior Department’s solicitor general under President George W. Bush, counselor and deputy chief of staff to then-Sec. Gale Norton and director of the department’s Office of Congressional and Legislative Affairs.
Dozens of conservationists opposed his nomination to be deputy interior secretary in a letter to the Senate in 2017. “After spending years lobbying for the oil and gas industry, big agribusiness and water profiteers, Mr. Bernhardt is laden with conflicts of interest that raise serious questions about his ability to act in the public interest,” the letter said.
The Concept of Having a Designated Survivor During the State of the Union Address Dates Back to the Cold War
The concept of having a designated survivor during the State of the Union came about during the Cold War. It designates a cabinet official to remain in a safe place during the State of the Union address, where the government’s top leaders are gathered in case there is an attack on the U.S. Capitol. The designated survivor became a crucial step in keeping the country’s leadership in tact after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 in the event of another attack on the homeland.
According to the U.S. Senate, President Harry Truman signed the Presidential Succession Act On July 18, 1947 which outlined the line of succession in the event the president died. “The original act of 1792 had placed the Senate president pro tempore and Speaker of the House in the line of succession, but in 1886 Congress had removed them. The 1947 law reinserted those officials, but placed the Speaker ahead of the president pro tempore,” the U.S. Senate explained.
Former Energy Secretary Rick Perry Was the Designated Survivor During Last Year’s State of the Union
Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who recently stepped down as President Donald Trump’s Energy Secretary, served as the designated survivor during the 2019 State of the Union address.
Previous designated survivors include Secretary of Veterans Affairs David Shulkin in 2017, Homeland Secretary Jeh Johnson in 2016, Attorney General Eric Holder in 2009 and Secretary of Energy Bill Richardson in 2000.
ABC Aired ‘Designated Survivor’ From 2016 to 2019 Starring Kiefer Sutherland
According to the show summary on IMDb, “Kiefer Sutherland stars as Tom Kirkman, a lower-level cabinet member who is suddenly appointed President of the United States after a catastrophic attack on the US Capitol during the State of the Union, on the highly anticipated series Designated Survivor. In this dramatic thriller, Kirkman will struggle to keep the country and his own family from falling apart, while navigating the highly-volatile political arena and while leading the search to find who is responsible for the attack.”
The first two seasons aired on ABC. The third season ran on Netflix.