Why there won't be a designated survivor at Biden's 1st speech to Congress

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There will be no designated survivor when President Biden delivers his first joint address to Congress Wednesday night, the White House announced Tuesday.

“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,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said.

Whenever the president addresses Congress, the White House usually keeps one member of the Cabinet away from the Capitol in a secure location while the other Cabinet secretaries attend the speech. The Cabinet member who stays behind is known as the “designated survivor,” and would become president should an attack wipe out the rest of the presidential line of succession.

Jen Psaki
White House press secretary Jen Psaki. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images) (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

This year, however, concerns about the ongoing pandemic have limited the number of people who will be present in the Capitol for the speech, and only two Cabinet secretaries will be there.

Roughly 200 people will be attending the speech at the Capitol, including the four people directly in line of succession following Biden: Vice President Kamala Harris, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate President Pro Tempore Patrick Leahy and Secretary of State Antony Blinken. Should disaster befall the highly secure building during Biden’s speech, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen would be next in line to take over.

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin — who falls after Yellen in the line — will be the other Cabinet official in attendance. Those in the line of succession still must meet constitutional requirements to hold the presidency, meaning that Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm, who was born in Canada, and Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas, who was born in Cuba, are not eligible.

According to the Washington Post, Chief Justice John Roberts will be the only Supreme Court member in attendance, while Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, will represent the military. First lady Jill Biden will also be in attendance but will not bring the customary guests.

This will be the first time in decades that there has been no designated survivor during a presidential address to Congress.

The concept of the designated survivor has cropped up in popular culture, including in the 2016 television series “Designated Survivor” and the 2005 film “xXx: State of the Union.”


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