Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack will stay away from the U.S. Capitol during tonight’s State of the Union address in order to serve as the Cabinet’s “designated survivor,” according to White House officials.
With the president, vice president, lawmakers, Cabinet secretaries, Supreme Court justices and members of the military’s Joint Chiefs of Staff all sitting together in one confined space, by tradition at least one Cabinet secretary skips the speech as a security precaution.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar skipped last year’s speech as a precaution and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan stayed away in 2010, but Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton was also away attending a conference in London. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. was Obama’s first designated survivor in 2009.
Donald Evans, commerce secretary from 2001 to 2005, is the only Cabinet secretary to serve as designated survivor twice, in 2004 and 2005, according to the Senate Historian.
And what does a “designated survivor” do on their night off? Eat pizza or head to the theater, according to colleague Al Kamen.
Here’s the full list of absent Cabinet secretaries since 1984, as compiled by the Senate Historian’s Office:
Jan. 25, 2011: Interior Secretary Ken Salazar
Jan. 27, 2010: HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan
Feb. 24, 2009: Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.
Jan. 28, 2008: Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne
Jan. 23, 2007: Attorney General Alberto Gonzales
Jan. 31, 2006: Veterans Affairs Secretary Jim Nicholson
Feb. 2, 2005: Commerce Secretary Donald Evans
Jan. 20, 2004: Commerce Secretary Donald Evans
Jan. 28, 2003: Attorney General John Ashcroft
Jan. 29, 2002: Interior Secretary Gale Norton
Feb. 27, 2001: Veterans Affairs Secretary Anthony Principi
Jan. 27, 2000: Secretary of Energy Bill Richardson
Jan. 19, 1999: HUD Secretary Andrew W. Cuomo
Jan. 27, 1998: Commerce Secretary Bill Daley
Feb. 4, 1997: Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman
Jan. 30, 1996: HHS Secretary Donna Shalala
Jan. 24, 1995: Transportation Secretary Federico Pena
Jan. 25, 1994: Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy
Feb. 17, 1993: Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt
Jan. 28, 1992: Agriculture Secretary Ed Madigan
Jan. 29, 1991: Interior Secretary Manuel Lujan
Jan. 31, 1990: Veterans Affairs Secretary Edward J. Derwinski
Feb. 9, 1989: No absent cabinet member
Jan. 25, 1988: Interior Secretary Donald P. Hodel
Jan. 27, 1987: Agriculture Secretary Richard Lyng
Feb. 4, 1986: Agriculture Secretary John Block
Feb. 6, 1985: Commerce Secretary Malcolm Baldrige
Jan. 25, 1984: HUD Secretary Samuel R. Pierce Jr.
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