Meet The Designated Survivor: A Decimated Government's Backup Plan

The plan traces all the way back to the Cold War.
Posted at 5:33 PM, Jun 14, 2018

The Founding Fathers really believed in that whole balance of powers thing. So much so they required the president to give Congress a country progress report "from time to time." 

So once a year the president's 16-person Cabinet, the members of Congress and the justices of the Supreme Court head to the Capitol and listen to the president tell them how great the country is doing.

It's pretty rare to see so much of the federal government in one room at one time. And for good reason. In one fell swoop, all of our lawmakers could be wiped out — enter the designated survivor. 

During the early parts of the Cold War, America was really worried about some kind of nuclear attack from the Soviet Union. So in 1947, Congress passed the current form of our presidential succession. A list of everyone that would take over if something happened to the president, and then vice president and so on until the secretary of homeland security. 

The designated survivor was also created as part of the most extreme type of backup plan to go along with the presidential succession legislation. They would become president if a catastrophe actually did happen during a State of the Union. 

The only qualifications to be the designated survivor are the same ones you have to meet to be president: natural-born American citizens who have been in the U.S. for at least 14 years and are 35 years or older.

Heading into the event, the president chooses from his Cabinet. And instead of being paraded into the House chamber with the rest of the Cabinet, they get top flight Secret Service security, lay back in some sweats in a very secure, very undisclosed location far away from Washington, D.C., and watch the event on TV. 

When the speech is done, so is their job. They pack up and just get to go back to being a regular old Cabinet member in a regular old government that wasn't just decimated by a terrorist attack.