There will be no designated survivor for the 2021 State of the Union address, breaking a longtime tradition that is typically necessary to ensure a proper transition of Presidential power in the case of a catastrophic attack. However, President Joe Biden did not name a designated survivor because few people will be attending his Joint Address to Congress in person.
Biden’s Joint Address to Congress will take place in the U.S. House of Representatives at 9 p.m. Eastern time April 28, 2021 on the eve of his 100th day in office. You can watch the State of the Union 2021 here.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki told media outlets Tuesday, April 27, 2021 that naming a designated survivor was rendered unnecessary because only two of Biden’s 15 cabinet secretaries will attend the event, which will have limited attendance.
Here’s what you need to know:
COVID-19 Protocols Will Limit the Number of People Attending the Joint Session to Congress & No Guests Will Be Permitted
The number of lawmakers who are permitted in the House chamber will be limited due to concerns over the coronavirus, CNN reported. Lawmakers will be seated in the upstairs gallery, and no additional guests will be permitted to attend. Only about 200 people are expected in the House chamber to watch Biden’s speech in person, a person involved in planning the event told CNN. The Joint Address is designated as a National Special Security Event.
Among those expected to attend the event are Chief Justice John Roberts, who will attend the speech on behalf of the Supreme Court, a court spokesperson told CNN. First lady Jill Biden is also expected to attend, but due to COVID-19 protocols, she will not be bringing any guests to sit with her, her press secretary, Michael LaRosa, told CNN.
“There does not need to be a designated survivor because the Cabinet will be watching from their offices or home, but they will not be joining him for the speech,” Psaki told POLITICO.
The Designated Survivor Is Usually Selected & Notified a Few Weeks Before the State of the Union Address
“Designated survivor” is a term used in popular culture, but it isn’t a term the White House uses. While a designated survivor has been chosen by the president for many years, the names of those chosen have only been announced publicly since the Ronald Regan administration, History reported. Education Secretary Terrel Bell was the first designated survivor to be acknowledged by the White House. Bell was absent from Reagan’s 1981 Joint Address of Congress, but not identified until long after the speech.
The White House began publicly releasing the name of the designated survivor on the same day as the State of the Union address in 1984. However, the White House describes the person as “the cabinet member not in attendance.”
“On the night of the State of the Union Address, the designated survivor is usually whisked away by a Secret Service detail, along with the ‘Football,’ the 45-pound briefcase containing the top-secret launch codes for America’s nuclear arsenal,” History reported. “Typically, the designated survivor is flown to an undisclosed location where he or she watches the State of the Union broadcast in the company of stone-faced Secret Service agents, usually with a good meal thrown in.”
The secretary of the interior has most often been named as the designated survivor, with that person being named seven times between 1984 and 2020. In the same time period, the agriculture secretary has been named six times and the secretary of veterans affairs has been named four times. A woman has been named twice, and no designated survivors have yet been named from the departments of state, treasury or labor, History reported.
The person who is chosen is notified a few weeks before the event. They are sworn to secrecy and receive specialized training.
“They walked you through the White House and showed you the Situation Room and talked seriously about the responsibility of the designated survivor,” former Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala, who was named designated survivor by Bill Clinton in 1996, told ABC News in 2014.