Miguel Cardona
Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona Cardona's Twitter Account

For about two hours on Thursday night, the U.S. was somewhat close to having its first-ever Latino president, as Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona was chosen as the country's designated survivor during Joe Biden's 2024 State of the Union.

This meant that Cardona would have been tasked with ensuring the continuity of the administration in case a catastrophic attack targeting the House Chamber, then holding the representatives of the three branches of government.

According to CBS News, the designated survivor is usually chosen at random, although the two cabinet members who are naturalized U.S. citizens -Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas- are not eligible to be president and therefore can't hold the position either.

The process to protect the designated survivor is mostly classified, but some of those who have been chosen have shared their experiences in the past. Dan Glickman, Secretary of Agriculture during the Clinton administration, wrote in Politico that he was joined by key military staff and Secret Service, as well as an officer who carried what he believed to be the nuclear football.

"It felt like an awesome responsibility to put on one man's shoulders, even if it was exceedingly unlikely the president—or in this case, the secretary of agriculture—would ever have to use it," Glickman wrote. "I sometimes wonder if I would have had the courage to give the order."

US President Joe Biden
US President Joe Biden delivers the State of the Union address AFP

Cardona is now much further away from becoming U.S. president, as he stands 16th in the line of succession. If Biden's office is vacated, the Presidential Succession Act of 1947 determines who is next in line. The first five officials are: Vice President Kamala Harris, Speaker of the House Mike Johnson, Senate pro tempore Patty Murray, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Secretary of Treasury Janet Yellen.

Cardona has been with Biden since the beginning of his administration and one of three Latino cabinet members, along with Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and Health & Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra, both of whom are still in their posts.

Cardona's Latino origins (his parents are Puerto Ricans) have marked his career. His dissertation, titled "Sharpening the Focus of Political Will to Address Achievement Disparities," studied the gaps between English-language learners and their classmates. He said he was personally drawn to the subject as he struggled to learn English during his early education. Among his achievements before joining the Biden cabinet: he was Connecticut's youngest principal in history for ten years and the first Latino to be the state's commissioner of education.

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