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2023 State of the Union: What is the designated survivor and who will it be this year?

One member of the cabinet will not be attending the State of the Union address on Wednesday, as part of the potential presidential succession plan.

Who is the designated survivor?

The State of the Union is an opportunity for the sitting president to outline their thoughts on the direction of the country and rally support for their own vision of the future.

This address to Congress typically brings together the vast majority of lawmakers from both parties, along with key members of the incumbent administration. But with so many high-ranking figures together, one person is told to stay away from the event to ensure that they can succeed the president if the worst were to happen.

This is the job of the designated survivor

Labor Secretary Marty Walsh is tonight’s designated survivor.

Sec. Walsh has recently announced that he will be leaving the administration. He will be the first high-ranking cabinet official to leave his post during President Biden’s term.

When did the tradition begin?

Dating back to the Cold War, the designated survivor is a member of the government who is kept away from events like inaugurations and major events to prevent a hypothetical decapitation of the United States government. As its origins in the Cold War suggest, it is designed to ensure that the government cannot be wiped out in a single mass-casualty incident.

That individual will be taken to a secure location for the duration of the event. The chosen designated survivor is almost always a member of the cabinet to ensure that they can continue the work of that government should anything happen.

In 2022 President Biden’s Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo was the designated survivor for the State of the Union. The previous year there was no designated survivor because the covid-19 restrictions ensured that there was only a limited in-person attendance for the speech.

Where is the State of the Union address held?

The first ever regular annual message to a joint session of Congress was given in 1790 by President George Washington. He delivered this remarks at the provisional US capital of New York City; and presidents continued to do so until Thomas Jefferson discontinued the tradition in 1801.

When the in-person speech was reintroduced by President Woodrow Wilson in 1913 he did so before the House of Representatives in the Washington DC Congress. The address is now delivered to a joint session of Congress held in the House of Representatives.

Modern examples of the speech typically feature the leaders of both Houses – Senate Majority Leader and Speaker of the House – sitting behind the president. Along with members and former members of both the House and the Senate, also in attendance are the President’s Cabinet, the Chief Justice and Justices on the Supreme Court, and the Diplomatic Corps.


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