White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday it's not necessary to have a traditional designated survivor during President Joe Biden's first joint address to Congress Wednesday night.
Only two of Biden's 15 Cabinet secretaries attending the pandemic-limited event in the House chamber of the Capitol, so there's no need to name anyone, she said.
"There does not need to be a designated survivor because the Cabinet will be watching from their offices or home," Psaki said at her daily press briefing.
The Constitution does not directly call for a designated survivor. The presidential line of succession is covered in both Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution, which was later amended and clarified by the 20th Amendment, and it is detailed in the Presidential Succession Act. But neither requires the sequestering of officials as a matter of practice, constitutioncenter.org says.
But in practice, it determines who will be president if everyone in the line of succession is killed at the same time. Usually, one Cabinet member would not attend the event where everyone else is in the same room, and that person would be the "designated survivor."
While it will look and feel like a State of the Union speech, Biden, like other presidents in their first year in office, will give what is known as an address to a joint session of Congress. The president will lay out his big priorities in a prime-time address aimed at connecting directly with his liberal base.
"There will not be a first lady's box as there has been historically," Psaki added, repeating another key distinction. Guests of the first lady often serve as presidential props to underscore and humanize policy objectives.
"While the speech will of course look and feel different from past years, the president will preserve a few traditions, including the walk down the center aisle that we have seen presidents do for many years," Psaki said.
"He will of course be wearing a mask for that. He'll remove the mask when he delivers his speech."
The term "designated survivor" became more widely known in 2016, when the ABC show of the same name first aired. In it, Kiefer Sutherland's character, the secretary of housing and urban development, is tapped to sit out the annual speech — then suddenly becomes the president when the chief executive and every other member of the line of succession are killed in a terror attack. The show ran through 2019.
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