Who will be tonight’s designated survivor?

By Robin Bravender | 02/07/2023 01:28 PM EST

Energy and environment officials are sometimes picked to sit out the State of the Union address in case disaster strikes.

The chamber of the House of Representatives is seen.

The chamber of the House of Representatives in 2022. J. Scott Applewhite/AP Photo

President Joe Biden will arrive in the House chamber for his State of the Union speech tonight along with members of Congress, Supreme Court justices and many of his Cabinet officials.

But one lucky — or unlucky — Biden official will sit out the event from an undisclosed location just in case calamity strikes when the government’s top officials are all assembled on Capitol Hill.

“Who’s the designated survivor,” is a question cable news hosts and political pundits pose before every State of the Union address. Sometimes energy and environment officials are picked to hide out during the speech and lead the government in case of disaster.


The surprising ascent of a Cabinet official was fictionalized in the 2016 television series “Designated Survivor,” starring Kiefer Sutherland, who portrayed a secretary of Housing and Urban Development thrust into the presidency following an attack on the Capitol during a State of the Union speech.

But in reality, the experience hasn’t been so dramatic for past designated survivors. Clinton-era Energy Secretary Bill Richardson watched his boss’ speech over roast beef and beer at a friend’s house in Maryland. “My initial reaction was, ‘Oh no, why me?'” when then-White House chief of staff John Podesta told him he had been picked, ABC News reported. Richardson’s friends were impressed by the security and the fire trucks that came with the job, he said.

President Ronald Reagan’s Agriculture secretary, John Block, spent his designated survivor stint in Jamaica, according to ABC.

After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, designated survivors have remained close to Washington in an undisclosed location, according to a report by the National Constitution Center.

Biden’s first designated survivor pick came during his State of the Union address last year, when Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo got the nod. The president didn’t have a designated survivor during his first joint address to Congress in 2021, when Covid-19 protocols meant many Cabinet officials were watching from outside the Capitol.

It won’t be EPA Administrator Michael Regan, who’s not in the presidential line of succession. Nor will it be Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm, who was born in Canada, or Cuban-born Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.

Past presidents have selected energy and environmental officials as their designated survivors.

Trump Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, Energy Secretary Rick Perry and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue took turns as designated survivors during State of the Union speeches.

President Barack Obama tapped DOE chiefs Ernest Moniz and Steven Chu, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to sit out his speeches in case of disaster.

Moniz became an internet sensation in 2014 when he was picked as designated survivor, prompting a flurry of discussion about his unique hairstyle and speculation about what a Moniz administration would have looked like.