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Defense Secretary Robert Gates to be Obama's 'designated successor'

January 19, 2009 |  9:34 am

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They call it "the designated successor," but really it's the guy they leave behind. If catastrophe befalls the new president and all of his other officials during inaugural ceremonies, a Cabinet secretary who is selected not to attend the day's events becomes the steward of a caretaker government.

At Tuesday's presidential inaugural, the White House announced today, that person will be Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates. The Pentagon chief -- the only holdover from the Republican White House asked to serve in the Democratic Obama administration, and the man whose command of U.S. troops could be important in such a scenario -- will be in a secure, undisclosed location, said White House Press Secretary Dana Perino.

In order to ensure continuity of government, Defense Secretary Robert Gates has been designated by the outgoing administration, with the concurrence of the incoming administration, to serve as the designated successor during Inauguration Day.

The White House usually asks one Cabinet official to stay behind at key events -- such as the State of the Union address -- in which where a high-profile assembly of power could invite tragedy.

But this is the first presidential transition since the terrorist attacks of 9/11, and both administrations were said to be attuned to a heightened danger during the hours when Barack Obama is sworn in, lunches with congressional leaders on Capitol Hill and then views the inaugural parade along Pennsylvania Avenue.

-- Johanna Neuman

Photo: Defense Secretary Robert Gates meets with U.S. troops. Credit: Cherie Thurlby / Defense Department

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