The Washington Post

State of the Union: Tom Vilsack to serve as Cabinet's ‘designated survivor’

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack (Brendan Hoffman/GETTY IMAGES)

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.

Follow Ed O'Keefe on Twitter: @edatpost

Further reading:

Breaking down the State of the Union

African American women see their own challenges mirrored in Michelle Obama’s

For more, visit PostPolitics and The Fed Page.

Ed O’Keefe is covering the 2016 presidential campaign, with a focus on Jeb Bush and other Republican candidates. He's covered presidential and congressional politics since 2008. Off the trail, he's covered Capitol Hill, federal agencies and the federal workforce, and spent a brief time covering the war in Iraq.
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