Texas Tribune Festival: 2018

This year’s Texas Tribune Festival was moved from the UT campus to downtown Austin. I thought this new location worked out well. The venues were centered around the Texas Tribune’s new headquarters on Congress Avenue. Most of my sessions were in the Paramount Theatre—that wasn’t my original plan, but two separate rainstorms forced me to go with the driest options.

One on One with Nancy Pelosi
Moderator: Alex Wagner

Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) is the former Speaker of the House and the current Minority Leader. She pointed out former Texas Lieutenant Governor Ben Barnes, who was seated in the front row. Not surprisingly, Pelosi does not think that Judge Kavanaugh meets the Supreme Court standard of upholding the Constitution. She feels that he disqualified himself with his statements about Democrats and the Clintons. Pelosi noted that over 50% of the House Democratic caucus are women, people of color, or LBTQ. She tries to find common ground with Republicans and is most concerned about healthcare, voting rights, gun safety, and immigration.

For the upcoming mid-term elections, there are 83 Democratic House candidates across the US (43 of those are women). Pelosi believes 6 Democratic House candidates could win current Republican seats in Texas. The Democrat’s November election plan is to “own the ground” (get out the vote). If Democrats become the majority in the House, their focus would be on lowering healthcare costs and reducing the impact of dark money in politics.

Pelosi is not in favor of Congressional term limits since a group of diverse people are just now getting into positions of leadership. Her advice to those thinking of running for public office: Be yourself. Know your “why” [why you are running].

One on One with Cecile Richards
Moderator: Anna Palmer

Cecile Richards is the former president of Planned Parenthood. She was publicizing her recent book, Make Trouble, but she had plenty of comments on other topics, too:

On the Kavanaugh hearing: “Dr. Ford spoke for millions of women in this country. She was incredibly compelling.”

On politics in Texas: “We’re a non-voting state.” “Women in this state have fought hard for everything we’ve gotten here in Texas.”

On her mother, former Texas governor, Ann Richards: “I come from a long line of feisty kick-ass women.” “[My mom] would not be surprised by Donald Trump. She dealt with those kind of men all her life.”

On her future plans for public office: “We’ll see.”

On women in politics: “Issues that women care about are not on the agenda.” “Women just want an equal chance.” “Maybe this is unleashing all this male anger.” “If half of Congress could get pregnant, we would stop fighting about birth control.”

Lessons learned from leading Planned Parenthood: “Focus on why you there.” “Don’t give up. Paul Ryan is now retiring and Planned Parenthood’s doors are still open all around the country.”

Her advice to young women: “Don’t wait to be asked.” “Do more than you thought was possible.” “Think: what’s the worst thing that could happen?”

The Kavanaugh Download

This panel discussion on the Kavanaugh nomination replaced an interview with Senator Jeff Flake (AZ), who canceled due to that nomination. John Heilemann and Mark McKinnon, co-hosts of The Circus (on Showtime) were joined by Steve Schmidt (former Republican strategist), Mieke Eoyang (former chief of staff for US Representative Anna Eschoo), Virginia Heffernan (Slate Magazine), and Joyce Vance (former US Attorney).

Some of the panel’s observations about the Kavanaugh hearings:

McKinnon: “Thank God for Jeff Flake. Otherwise, the Republicans could have won the battle, but lost the war.” “I have it on good authority that Brett Kavanaugh wanted an FBI investigation, but the White House shut it down.”

Schmidt: “If you don’t black out in high school, I have no idea how you’re prepared for college.” “He [Kavanaugh] looked like a guy who is looking for payback.”

Joyce: “This was a process not designed to get to the truth.” “Kavanaugh threw his friend under the bus by describing [Mark] Judge as an alcoholic and addict. “If you truly believe in the [Supreme] Court, you withdraw your name. Otherwise you will be mired in controversy.”

Mulling Mueller
Moderator: Virginia Heffernan (Slate Magazine)

This was another panel discussion focusing on the Mueller Russia investigation. Participants were: Adam Schiff (US Representative CA-D), Joaquin Castro (US Representative TX-D), Mieke Eoyang (see previous panel), Evan McMullin (former CIA officer), and Michael Schmidt (NY Times).

Schiff noted that he was a member of a bipartisan Congressional committee that had been investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election. However, Congress has no subpeona power, so that committee was not very effective. Castro was worried that many of the Republicans in Congress who stand up to the president are leaving. Schiff dryly observed that Trump has something that Richard Nixon did not: Fox News.

Schmidt said that he covers just one aspect of the Mueller investigation: obstruction. “We [the Times] spend an enormous amount of time trying to figure out what Mueller is doing.” “The President is oddly transparent.” [in his statements and tweets]

McMullin’s view: “What they [the Russians] did in 2016 was most significant intelligence operation that the Russians have ever carried out.” He thinks there is more to learn about Trump’s business dealings. Eoyang observed that the Russians have been exceptionally clever at exploiting our divisive issues. She added that the current Congress does not seem interested in stopping interference in the mid-term elections. “It’s very clear that the Russians are continuing to interfere.”

Is Justice Done?
Moderator: Lawrence O’Donnell

Some Saturday sessions were offered free to the public as part of “Open Congress.” I listened to a discussion with Sally Yates (former Acting US Attorney General), Neal Katyal (former Acting US Solicitor General) and Joyce Vance (former US Attorney). For the most part, they concluded that justice is alive and well in our country.

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