An audience watches the opening keynote with former Secretary of State John Kerry at the Texas Tribune Festival on Sept. 27, 2018. Credit: Tamir Kalifa for The Texas Tribune

Featuring more than 360 speakers, the 2018 Texas Tribune Festival is hosting more than 90 panels on pressing policy issues facing our state and our nation. Check this page for highlights from the three-day festival, and go here to see the full schedule.

It’s all Kavanaugh, all day

As the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee advanced the Supreme Court nomination of Brett Kavanaugh in Washington, talk of the nominee dominated panels at TribFest on Friday.

A panel on gender and leadership analyzed Wednesday’s testimony before the committee from Christine Blasey Ford, who has accused Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her in high school.

Interviews on the law got into the procedural complexities of U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake’s call to hold an FBI investigation into those allegations. Even conversations on foreign affairs were not immune – one panelist said everyone at the United Nations couldn’t stop talking about Kavanaugh.

In a discussion on the legacy of President George W. Bush, where Kavanaugh served as White House staff secretary, his former colleagues staunchly defended the nominee, fresh off a fiery testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder hailed the recently-ordered FBI investigation into allegations against Kavanaugh as overdue, describing the Judiciary’s Committee delay in asking the FBI to examine Ford’s allegations as “unconscionable.”

As the hearing went on in Washington, U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon) was vocal about his opposition to the way Senate Republicans have handled Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation.

“They literally set it up as a he said, she said,” Merkley said. “It is a shameful moment that 11 Republicans refuse to push the president to open an investigation.”

Pundits and politicos on the right and left said the clash in Washington would fuel greater division among the American electorate.

At “Making Mr. Right,” a panel on the future of conservatism, conservative commentator Bill Kristol predicted the Kavanaugh hearings would pull Republican voters to the polls in droves. “This brings out the worst in everyone,” he said. “People genuinely feel their person has been mistreated.”

Former State Sen. Wendy Davis said that she now feels “more committed” than ever before to check “white male privilege.”

“If they ignore us, they will be held accountable,” she said.

Texas Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman said she cried during testimony Thursday by both Blasey Ford and Kavanaugh. “America needs to go back to a place of civility, where we can disagree but not be hostile about it,” she said. “Disagreement is needed for democracy.”

Avenatti talks Brett Kavanaugh, 2020 run

Attorney Michael Avenatti speaks with moderator John Heilemann at The Texas Tribune Festival in Austin on Sept. 28, 2018.

The lawyer at the center of so much of the day’s news has remained in the orbit of the Kavanaugh drama.

The Supreme Court nominee is “completely full of shit,” Michael Avenatti said Friday. “There is no question in my view that he is lying.”

The outspoken attorney is representing Kavanaugh accuser Julie Swetnick, as well as porn star Stormy Daniels in a lawsuit against President Donald Trump.

During an interview with John Heilemann, Kavanaugh was “over-the-top aggressive” during the hearing, Avenatti said Friday. He compared the event to Justice Clarence Thomas’ 1991 hearing, saying that Kavanaugh didn’t get “any worse treatment.”

Watch a live-stream and read more from the Tribune’s Katie Lundstrom here.

Kerry calls for voting to correct divisive politics

Tribune CEO Evan Smith interviews former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry at The Texas Tribune Festival in Austin, Texas on Sept. 27, 2018.

At the festival’s opening keynote on Thursday night, former Secretary of State John Kerry exhorted U.S. citizens to patch up their ailing democracy. In a wide-ranging conversation with Tribune CEO Evan Smith, he lamented a system of divisive partisan politics while launching a series of jabs at President Donald Trump.

“We have the greatest course-correction moment we’ve had in years available to us in about 40 days,” Kerry said Thursday evening during the opening keynote of the Texas Tribune Festival in Austin.

And he nodded to one of the most-watched races in that midterm: Texas’ U.S. Senate race. “And there’s a guy running whose name begins with a ‘B.’”

Watch a live-stream and read more from The Tribune’s Emma Platoff here.

NYC Mayor de Blasio talks ‘progressive vision’ for his city, the country

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is interviewed by Brian Rosenthal of The New York Times at The Texas Tribune Festival in Austin on Sept. 28, 2018.

In a conversation with Brian Rosenthal of The New York Times, de Blasio touted some of those efforts – such as universal pre-K, neighborhood policing and affordable housing – while defending his hesitations around some ideas like marijuana legalization.

Amid persistent rumors of his presidential aspirations, the two-term Democrat said he came to Austin to share the “progressive vision” he’s implementing in the country’s largest metropolis.

Read more from The Tribune’s Teo Armus here.


Teo Armus, Alexa Ura, and Allyson Waller contributed to this report.

Texas Tribune Staff

The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans – and engages with them – about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.