While both houses of Congress, the Supreme Court justices of the United States, the first lady, top military officials — and even U2’s Bono — were in the Capitol building for President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address on Tuesday, one Cabinet member was locked away in an undisclosed location.
This year, Labor Secretary Marty Walsh was named as the “designated survivor,” aka the member of the president’s Cabinet who stays away from the Capitol to protect the presidential line of succession, just in case of a disaster, an attack or some other unforeseen event wipes out the country’s leaders while they are all gathered in one place.
The tradition dates back to the 1950s, according to the National Constitution Center, when the nation was jittery about a possible nuclear attack during the Cold War. But the federal government didn’t start publicly acknowledging a designated survivor by name until 1981, when then-Education Secretary Terrel Bell missed a joint session of Congress addressed by President Ronald Reagan.
And since then, a designated survivor has been used for inaugurations, the State of the Union address and presidential speeches before joint sessions of Congress.
Earlier on Tuesday, it was reported that Walsh — a two-term Boston mayor and a former union official — will step down from his position as Labor Secretary to head up the National Hockey League Players Association.