I know it sounds straight out of television (which it is) but the designated survivor is actually a real thing. When the country's most important officials are scheduled to all congregate in one place during a major event like the State of the Union, it's just practical sense to have someone stay behind — to, like, run the country should something happen. But who is the 2019 State of the Union designated survivor? I'll give you a hint: He's the former governor of Texas.
On Feb. 5, when President Donald Trump delivered his SOTU address to a joint session in Congress, basically all of Capital Hill was present except for the designated survivor, Energy Secretary Rick Perry, who was taken to a distant and undisclosed location to watch the speech on TV like the rest of us — probably, per CNN. But not just any politician or cabinet member can take on the task, there are a few rules. First off, the designated survivor must be in the presidential line of succession, a requirement Perry meets, given that he's reportedly 14th in line.
He or she must also meet all the criteria that a candidate must meet to run for office, like being born in the United States and at least 35 years old, according to NBC News. (If you didn't know, Perry has actually tried to be president, in 2012 and 2016.)
In addition to the SOTU, the protocol also takes place during the inauguration because both times those eligible to take office are gathered in one place. The practice of picking a designated survivor dates all the way back to the Cold War in 1960s where there was fear of nuclear attacks, according to CNN.
Last year Trump got to pick his designated survivor for his first SOTU address, and he chose Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue. The announcement wasn't made until hours before Trump was scheduled to take the podium before Congress.
It's actually pretty common for the president to choose his designated survivor from departments such as agriculture, veteran affairs, or homeland security, according to NBC News. In fact, Perdue wasn't even the first designated survivor to be plucked from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). In 1997, former President Bill Clinton tapped then Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman as his designated survivor for his SOTU address that year. In a 2017 piece for Politico, Glickman gave a little insight into what it's like to be chosen as the designated survivor. He wrote that as designated survivor he actually spent the night of Clinton's SOTU at his daughter's New York City apartment (were you also thinking that they get sent off to some government building somewhere?).
Glickman also wrote in his piece that he never received detailed instructions on how to handle a "doomsday scenario," but knew he could turn to his security detail for help. He wrote,
I don’t recall getting any specific instructions on what to do if the doomsday scenario happened. All I knew is that if necessary, I could turn to that military officer accompanying me, holding that 45-pound bag, and trigger a military response, including a nuclear strike.
In the case of emergency the designated survivor basically becomes the leader of the free world. Can you imagine being tasked with such an important job? Glickman described it as being an "awesome" responsibility, albeit and "unlikely" scenario.
The idea of a designated survivor is a kind of interesting concept that you might not have thought about before, but it does make complete sense.