Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi’s request to Donald Trump to delay this year’s State of the Union address, scheduled for January 29, was based on advice she received from national security and counter-terrorism experts worried about a “Designated Survivor” scenario.
The government shutdown has resulted in disruption within many of the agencies responsible for securing the U.S. Capitol from threats during the State of the Union address, an event designated as a “National Special Security Event” (NSSE). With the president, vice president, Cabinet, members of the Supreme Court, Joint Chiefs of Staff, senators, U.S. representatives, foreign ambassadors, and invited VIP guests present in the House chamber during the State of the Union address, the event is one of the most protected venues in the country. With so much of the government present, one Cabinet member is a “designated survivor,” which is intended to ensure continuity of government in the event of a crippling attack on the Capitol during the State of the Union. In the television series, “Designated Survivor,” a massive bomb explosion at the Capitol wipes out the leadership of the nation during the State of the Union, leaving the “designated survivor,” Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Tom Kirkman—played by Kiefer Sutherland—as the new acting president.
Pursuant to the Presidential Succession Act of 1947, during each State of the Union address and presidential inauguration, a different Cabinet member is chosen as the designated survivor. During the 2018 State of the Union address, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue was the designated survivor. During the event, the designated survivor is protected by Secret Service agents in a secure facility. A military aide is also present with the “nuclear football,” containing the authorization codes to launch a nuclear strike.
In her January 16, 2019, letter to Trump recommending a delay in the State of the Union address, Pelosi wrote, “The U.S. Secret Service was designated as the lead federal agency responsible for coordinating, planning, exercising, and implementing security for National Special Security Events by Public Law 106-544, December 19, 2000. However, both the U.S. Secret Service and the Department of Homeland Security have not been funded for 26 days now—with critical departments hamstrung by furloughs.
“Sadly, given the security concerns and unless government re-opens this week, I suggest that we work together to determine another suitable date after government has re-opened for this address or for you to consider delivering your State of the Union address in writing to the Congress on January 29th.”
Showing a complete disregard for the impacted and degraded security for this year’s address, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen rejected Pelosi’s concerns, stating, “the Department of Homeland Security and the US Secret Service are fully prepared to support and secure the State of the Union.”
In fact, Nielsen is wrong and she and Trump are placing the lives of every person attending this year’s State of the Union address in extreme jeopardy, not to mention putting the entire nation in further danger.
Although the Department of Energy is not affected by the shutdown, its critical Nuclear Emergency Support Team (NEST), which is active in and around the District of Columbia and suburban Maryland and Virginia prior to, during, and after the State of the Union looking for any high concentrations of radiation indicative of a radioactive “dirty” bomb or an actual nuclear warhead, relies on close coordination with the Secret Service; Bureau of Alcohol, Firearms, Tobacco, and Explosives; U.S. Coast Guard; Federal Aviation Administration (FAA); Transportation Security Agency; Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and other agencies adversely affected by the shutdown.
During a major NSSE like the State of the Union, NEST deploys some of its fleet of special fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters over a designated surveillance zone. NEST aircraft receive from the FAA a higher control priority within the National Airspace System and are designated with the call sign “FLYNET.”
Of course, none of this is of importance to a Trump administration that has been called a staff of morons, idiots, and know-nothings by current White House insiders and former Trump administration officials.
Trump is now considering whether to present his State of the Union address inside the U.S. Senate. If all Democrats and other VIPs, including the Supreme Court and Joint Chiefs, avoid the U.S. Capitol during such a scenario, the only lives that will be placed in jeopardy will be Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, Trump’s Cabinet, the Republican senators, and the handful of Republican House members who will have to squeeze into the small Senate gallery during the speech. At least, innocent Democratic lives will not be put at risk.
Previously published in the Wayne Madsen Report.
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Wayne Madsen is a Washington, DC-based investigative journalist and nationally-distributed columnist. He is the editor and publisher of the Wayne Madsen Report (subscription required).