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Why does the State of the Union address need a ‘designated survivor’?

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(AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
President Joe Biden speaks at an event to celebrate Black History Month in the East Room of the White House, Monday, Feb. 28, 2022, in Washington.

Every year, the president convenes members of Congress in the U.S. Capitol to update them and the American people on the state of the nation, often touching on issues both of domestic and international importance. In what’s become an annual tradition, members of the president’s inner circle join with the whole of Congress and the Supreme Court justices on the House floor for the highly anticipated State of the Union address. 

The entirety of American leadership huddled together in the same room is, for security reasons, a rare occurrence. But one high-ranking member of government is always conspicuously absent during the annual speech. That one official is the “designated survivor,” who would assume control of the government in the case of a catastrophic event involving the mass deaths of American leaders—such as what could happen in a nuclear or terrorist attack.

On Tuesday, Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo was tapped to be the lone survivor. She wasn’t present in the Capitol but was at an undisclosed location during the event. Luckily, Raimondo—and the rest of the country’s highest leaders—didn’t need to survive any sort of disaster. Because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, there was no need for a designated survivor during last year’s joint address before Congress, as most of President Joe Biden’s cabinet members watched the speech remotely and separately. The president’s first speech to Congress is referred to as a “joint address,” which is different from the State of the Union address. 

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