One of the more macabre practices involved with the annual State of the Union address is the selection of a designated survivor. One U.S. Cabinet member is chosen to not attend the address, and must sit in a secure, undisclosed location until after the event is over. The designated survivor for the 2016 State of the Union is Orrin Hatch, a Republican senator from Utah.
Update: It was announced Tuesday evening that the designated survivor is Department of Homeland Security secretary Jeh Johnson, not Hatch, contrary to earlier reports.
Earlier: Hatch will have a clear shot to the presidency if something absolutely awful happens during President Obama's final SOTU address. This actually works out well, because as president pro tempore of the Senate, Hatch is already third in the presidential line of succession anyway, just behind Vice President Joe Biden and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan.
The designated survivor is a crucial role for this one evening out of the year. In case some catastrophe were to take out the president, vice president, and entire Senate, Hatch would have access to the nuclear "Football," a briefcase that provides a list of nuclear options that could be useful in responding to whatever tragedy just happened.
Several previous designated survivors spoke to The Washington Post and explained what the process was like. Former Secretary of Veterans Affairs Jim Nicholson was the designated survivor in 2006. He said that before the address, they had "briefings, some discussion, and then had a very nice meal cooked by the White House mess." Then, said former Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman, they're told the "mission is terminated," and that they're free to go home.
The practice of designating a survivor dates back to the 1960s, with official records beginning in 1984. And yet, as the newspaper pointed out, the designated survivor has only been a woman two times: Donna Shalala in 1996 and Gale Norton in 2002. There has never been a female designated survivor during President Obama's tenure. Last year, the designated survivor was Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx.
Hatch is the most senior senator of the Republican party, having been in office since 1977. It's this seniority that gives him the position of president pro tempore, as Republicans are the majority party in the Senate. And judging by a recent article he wrote for Utah's Deseret News, if he were to assume the presidency, it's safe to say it'd be quite different from the Obama administration. In his article reviewing 2015, he claimed that one of the Senate's accomplishments was "[standing] up to Obama’s overreach." Hatch wrote:
Under our new Republican majority, the Senate passed its first-ever Obamacare repeal, creating a viable pathway for full repeal under a future Republican president. And recognizing the damage inflicted to our economy and our constitutional system of government by the president's lawless regulatory overreach, the Senate passed legislation to repeal some of the Obama administration’s most onerous regulations, such as the Clean Power Plan and the “Waters of the United States” rule.
In fact, earlier Tuesday before the State of the Union, Hatch appeared on The Doug Wright Show to criticize Obama, saying that he will be known among the American people as "among the most divisive" presidents ever. Hatch's official Twitter account posted several scathing quotes from the show, which might make you a little worried about the possibility of him taking over as president in place of Obama. For instance:
Unfortunately the only legacy this President will be remembered for is a record of partisanship among the American people.