Of all the faces seen attending last night’s State of the Union Address, there was one member of the president’s cabinet not in attendance and you probably didn’t even notice. While members of the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate, Supreme Court, Joint Chiefs of Staff and President Trump’s cabinet members attended the event, the presidents designated survivor watched from a secure undisclosed location.

Possible consequences of having the president, vice president, cabinet members, as well as the legislature attending the same event are not taken likely by our government. Should the worst ever happen while the president is delivering the SOTU an acting president is chosen from the presidential line of succession. Which is the order that U.S. officials are chosen to become acting president. Since the Vice President, Speaker of the House, President Pro Temp, and cabinet members are attending the event one cabinet member is chosen from the line of succession.

However, there are exceptions to the order. In order to be chosen the constitution is followed. Article ll, Section 1. clause 5 states the requirements to be president as one who is 35 years or older, a natural born citizen, and having been a resident of the U.S. for at least 14 years. Any cabinet member not meeting these requirements is skipped. There are 15 members of the cabinet with the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo being the 1st cabinet member in line. Followed by the remaining 13 cabinet secretary’s and the Attorney General. The following chart shows the order of the presidential line of succession. Keep in mind that for the sake of the SOTU the order starts with the Secretary of State.

No. Office Incumbent Party
1 Vice President Mike Pence Republican
2 Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi Democratic
3 President pro tempore of the Senate Chuck Grassley Republican
4 Secretary of State Mike Pompeo Republican
5 Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin Republican
6 Secretary of Defense Mark Esper Republican
7 Attorney General William Barr Republican
8 Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt Republican
9 Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue Republican
10 Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross Republican
11 Secretary of Labor Eugene Scalia Republican
12 Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar Republican
13 Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson Republican
Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao[A] Republican
14 Secretary of Energy Dan Brouillette Republican
15 Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos Republican
16 Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert Wilkie Republican
17[B] Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf Republica


For 2020 the chosen designated survivor was Secretary of the Interior, David Bernhardt. Bernhardt is an attorney and once was an oil lobbyist. He first started working for the Department of the Interior in 2001 and soon became its solicitor from 2006 to 2009. Currently as secretary he presides over more than 70,000 employees. Bernhardt has also served on the Board of Game and Inland Fisheries for the Commonwealth of Virginia. Bernhardt

James Cheef