Jeh Johnson Is The Designated Survivor At This Year's State Of The Union

Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Jeh Johnson, was named a designated survivor leading into President Barack Obama's final State of the Union address. He is under President Obama in a long line of designees before him, including recognizable names like 2015's designee Anthony Foxx, the Secretary of Transportation, and Ernest Moniz, Secretary of Energy and 2014 designee. Historically, a designated survivor is a member of the United States Cabinet who is nominated to occupy a physically distant, secure, and undisclosed location when the president, vice president, and members of cabinet are gathered in one place. This means he had to sit out President Obama's eighth and final State of the Union address.

Johnson is a civil and criminal trial lawyer who, besides serving as United States Secretary of Homeland Security, served as General Counsel of the Department of Defense — as named by President Obama — from 2009 to 2012. He is a graduate of Morehouse College (B.A.) and Columbia Law School (J.D.).

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The designated survivor is a role that likely originated in the 1960s, but officially dates back to 1981. It was designed to preserve government without interruption in case of a disaster or tragedy involving the United States' highest officials. This came to exist as an indirect result of the Presidential Succession Act of 1947, which established a line of successors who may act using the president's powers in the situation he or she were rendered unable. If both the president and vice president were incapable of holding office, the government would Constitutionally appoint the highest ranking surviving official — such as the designated survivor — as Acting President of the United States.

Under President Obama, then-Attorney General Eric Holder was the first designated survivor back in 2009. He was a higher rank than most designated survivors, who are typically lower-level cabinet members. For example, the designee of 2010 Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Shaun Donovan, and Secretary of the Interior, Ken Salazar, was designee in 2011. Some prior appointed designees under President Obama include Secretary of the Interior — Ken Salazar, Secretary of Agriculture — Tom Vilsack, Secretary of Veterans Affairs — Eric Shinseki, and two Secretaries of Energy — Steven Chu, and the aforementioned Ernest Moniz.

Earlier reports had named Orrin Hatch (R-UT) designated survivor — despite his staunchly critical view of the president — though recent reports confirm Jeh Johnson, indeed, did not attend the State of the Union.