Interior secretary David Bernhardt stayed behind during Trump's State of the Union speech — here's how past 'designated survivors' spent their evenings under high security

David Zalubowski/AP PhotoU.S. Deputy Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt speaks during the annual state of Colorado energy luncheon sponsored by the Colorado Petroleum council Thursday, July 26, 2018, in Denver.

Excluding the years immediately after a new president is elected, one member of the president’s Cabinet has been selected every year since the 1960s to be the “designated survivor” during high-profile events such as State of The Union addresses and inaugurations.

If there was a targeted attack on the Capitol, someone would have to take over the government.

They sit out the State of the Union far away from the House chamber, so that in case there is a catastrophe, a Senate-confirmed official could take the reigns of the presidency. Since 2005, a designated survivor from Congress has also been selected in order to rebuild the legislative branch.

Interior Secretary David Bernhardt was announced to be this year’s designated survivor. Although highly unlikely, this doomsday scenario has captured the imaginations of screenwriters and TV producers, spawning an entire show on ABC called simply “Designated Survivor.”

In the real world, designated survivors have often tended to be low-ranking cabinet members, and until 9/11, had spent their evenings away from Washington, DC in a variety of ways. Almost all choose to kick back, relax, and enjoy the perks of the presidential treatment for a few short hours.

Here are how past designated survivors have spent their State of the Union addresses as the possible president-to-be:


A designated survivor has been selected for the State of Union address since sometime in the 1960s, but the first one documented person was secretary of housing and urban development Samuel R. Pierce Jr. at former President Ronald Reagan’s in January 1984.

Wikimedia CommonsSamuel Riley Pierce Jr.

Source: The American Presidency Project


In 1986, agriculture secretary John Block spent Reagan’s address from his friend’s house on the shores of Montego Bay, Jamaica. “I was having a glass of wine probably,” Block said after the fact.

Charles TasnadiJohn Block (R).

Source: ABC News


In 1990, secretary of veteran affairs Ed Derwinski had a pretty casual experience as the designated survivor. He had pizza near his home while his security detail stood by.

Wikimedia CommonsFormer President George H.W. Bush’s cabinet, with Derwinski standing in the top row, third from the right.

Source: ABC News


In 1996, secretary of health and human services Donna Shalala spent the State of the Union address in the White House. She reportedly ordered pizza for her staff after former President Bill Clinton told her, “Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.”

J. Scott Applewhite/APShalala (R) with Bill Clinton in 1997.

Source: ABC News


In 1997, secretary of agriculture Dan Glickman visited his daughter in Lower Manhattan to hang out at her apartment — “nuclear football” and all. But after the State of the Union ended and Secret Service left, they were left looking for taxis in the pouring rain.

Matt Sayles/APDan Glickman in 2010

Source: CBS News


In 1999, then-secretary of housing and urban development and now-governor of New York Andrew Cuomo opted to stay home to spend quality time with his kids.

AP Photo/Andrew HarnikNew York Gov. Andrew Cuomo gestures as he arrives for a meeting with President-elect Donald Trump at Trump Tower in New York on Jan. 18, 2017.

Source: ABC News


In 2000, secretary of energy Bill Richardson spent his time as designated survivor hanging out with his family in coastal Maryland. They dined on roast beef and drank beers as the Secret Service watched over them.

APRichardson (R) with former Vice President Joe Biden (L).

Source: ABC News


But after the 9/11 attacks rocked the world, the role of designated survivor took on new gravity. From then on out, designated survivors were taken to an undisclosed location and didn’t speak to reporters about their experiences.

AP Photo/Susan WalshBush gives his State of the Union address on Capitol Hill Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2002 after entering the packed House chamber to boisterous applause from Republicans and Democrats alike.

Source: ABC News


“I think 9/11 created a new aura of reality,” said interior secretary and 2011’s designated survivor Ken Salazar. “It added a dimension of seriousness to that kind of protective measure.”

Source: ABC News


In 2006, secretary of veterans affairs Jim Nicholson had to deal with this new level of seriousness when he was transported via helicopter to an unknown location and given a security briefing. But was able to enjoy a steak dinner in the process.

Alex Brandon/APJim Nicholson in 2007

Source: ABC News


In 2010, an unusual circumstance meant that two designated survivors were selected.

Charles Dharapak/APBarack Obama giving his 2010 State of the Union

Source: Washington Post


Then-secretary of state Hillary Clinton was abroad in London during the State of the Union, but secretary of housing and urban development Shaun Donovan was also named designated survivor.

REUTERS/Jim BourgShaun Donovan, director of the White House’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB), answers questions at the Reuters Global Climate Change Summit in Washington, October 14, 2014.

Source: Washington Post


Had US leadership been wiped out, Clinton would have succeeded former President Barack Obama because she would have been the lone survivor in the line of succession. But because her location was known, another survivor had to be selected.

Mark Wilson/Getty ImagesHillary Clinton.

Source: Washington Post


Thankfully — outside of the fictional TV show on ABC — no real designated survivors have had to fulfil their doomsday missions.

ABCKiefer Sutherland stars in ‘Designated Survivor’ on ABC.

The designated survivor for the 2018 State of the Union was Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue.

Preston Keres/USDASonny Perdue, left, is sworn in as the 31st Secretary of Agriculture by US Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas on April 25, 2017.

Just a few minutes before the 2019 State of the Union, Energy Secretary Rick Perry was chosen as the designated survivor

REUTERS/Brendan McDermidFormer Texas Governor Rick Perry exits after meeting with U.S. President-elect Donald Trump at Trump Tower.

The designated survivor for the 2020 State of the Union is Interior Secretary David Bernhardt

David Zalubowski/AP PhotoU.S. Deputy Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt speaks during the annual state of Colorado energy luncheon sponsored by the Colorado Petroleum council Thursday, July 26, 2018, in Denver.

Michal Kranz contributed to a previous version of this story.

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