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Alexandra Pelosi on her parents' lives in the political realm

Documentary filmmaker Alexandra Pelosi is the youngest daughter of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. And she finds being in front of the camera surreal, she told CBS News' John Dickerson: "I spend my life behind the camera. And so, sitting here being interrogated by you is really sort of what nightmares are made of."

Really? Why? "Because I'm a behind-the-cameras person."

"Well, you can hold the camera if that makes you feel better," Dickerson said.

"Thank you. Like a little security blanket!"

She added, "Make sure when you're editing that you include that nobody in my family would want me speaking for the family. No one would hire me to be their spokesperson, because nobody wants to hear what I have to say at the dinner table."

Not exactly. Her family might not want Alexandra to be the spokesperson, but that might be why what she says is worth talking about at the dinner table. As she explained, "Every family has to have a dark cloud, and that's me."

It's been a dark time. Her father, Paul Pelosi, is recuperating from a hammer attack by a man asking "Where's Nancy," which was also the chant from rioters at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021, who targeted Nancy Pelosi above all others.

Nancy can be found in "Pelosi in the House," the documentary her daughter has made about her, premiering on HBO and HBO Max this Tuesday. It's a not-quite-authorized look at the Speaker, in which she is counting votes, dancing with grandchildren, and talking on the phone. Always on the phone. 

Alexandra said, "If you want to understand her, you have to watch her work. So, I watched her work. For decades I watched her work. She invited us to everything. 'We're passing this bill. Come on down.' That's family time for us. My kids grew up in the Capitol. That's how my children spent time with their grandmother, was watching her pass healthcare."

To watch a trailer for "Pelosi in the House," click on the video player below:

Pelosi In The House | Official Trailer | HBO by HBO on YouTube

Alexandra Pelosi has made 15 documentaries, but this one is like her first, "Journeys with George" (2002), a behind-the-scenes look at George W. Bush's presidential campaign based on her time travelling with the candidate, and other journalists (including Dickerson). Both films are about two worlds – the political world and the real one behind it, a split Pelosi has been observing all her life.

She said she started taking pictures of her mother in the 1980s, with a small disposable camera. "And then, it totally evolved.

"I grew up two feet behind Nancy Pelosi, so I got to see how everyone behaved in front of her, and everything they said the minute she walked away."

The daughter of Nancy Pelosi talks about her new HBO documentary, "Pelosi in the House," that traces her mother's pioneering career. CBS News

The image of Speaker Pelosi is an endless cycle of activity in a political environment where she has become GOP Enemy #1, summed up by an aside Pelosi gives during one negotiation, as captured in "Pelosi in the House": "See, here's what happens in negotiations: When you get toward the end, people get tired. And that's where he is. You can't get tired. You can never get tired."

And you apparently can't go off message, even with your interrogative daughter. 

Alexandra: "You are impossible to crack, you know that."
Nancy: "Well, I have my sensitivities."

Dickerson asked, "Even you can't catch her off-guard?"

"No, there's no catching her off-guard. My life's work has been trying to get her to go off-guard. But it doesn't happen. She eats nails for breakfast!"

But there are parts of the documentary that will catch Mother Pelosi off-guard.

Alexandra said, "I showed her the preview, and she called me up and she said, 'I think that you should take these things out.' And I said, 'The film is already going to air.' Like, she was editing a film that's airing in two weeks. That's who she is."

The film's climax is January 6, 2021. Days earlier, a severed pig's head had been delivered to her mother's home. But the family joined the matriarch for the historic day, as usual.

And Alexandra was filming, as usual.

"My 16-year-old son was the first one who called it," said Alexandra. "He said, 'What if they stormed the Capitol?' We were looking out the window. And you know, Nancy Pelosi, she's got to learn the script for the day of how we go through counting the electoral votes. She's not paying attention to the jackass climbing the walls. And she thinks, 'Well, we have full security here. This is going to be fine.'"

Speaker Nancy Pelosi at 2:23 p.m., being escorted to a secure location after rioters broke into the Capitol complex on January 6, 2021.   Alexandra Pelosi

Alexandra kept rolling as the family and members of Congress were evacuated to Fort McNair, a U.S. Army post. "Security took us out because we're family. But the staff were all there. They knew what was coming, and they had to go hide under a desk, all these people who did not sign up for this. Young, optimistic people who want to go work in the Speaker's office have to go hide under a desk?

"I saw it in the eyes of the staffers as we were leaving the building, that we were leaving and they were being left behind."

Some of Alexandra's footage was featured by the January 6th Select Committee, including Pelosi and other leaders pleading for troops to end the riot, which they ultimately did. But the collateral damage lingers after the glass has been swept up.

"On January 6th, my 16-year-old son was asking me, 'Why do all these people want to kill MiMi?' We call her MiMi. And I think for me, the hardest part now is trying to explain to my children, who are teenagers, they saw the Oath Keepers trial, that they went to the Capitol and said they wanted to hang Nancy Pelosi from a lamp post. They get news alerts on their phone about that. So, trying to make peace with the fact that my mother says that public service is a noble calling, and my kids don't understand why people want to kill her – for what? What did she do, pass healthcare?

"I still haven't been able to give them a good answer to that question."

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and her daughter, Alexandra Pelosi, arrive at the White House to attend a state dinner honoring French President Emmanuel Macron, in Washington, D.C., December 1, 2022. ROBERTO SCHMIDT/AFP via Getty Images

There's one recurring character in the documentary: Alexandra's father, Paul. "My father is the breakout star of my mother's life, and of my movie," she said. "He's always there. And I don't know many men who would be willing to just ride along for that kind of a life."

But here's what's NOT in the documentary: the vicious attack on Paul Pelosi in the family home in San Francisco at the end of October. Police say the attacker was looking for Nancy Pelosi, but found her husband instead, and beat him with a hammer. 

Dickerson asked, "How's your dad doing now?"

"He's getting better every day, thank you for asking. The scars are healing. I mean, he looks like Frankenstein. The scars are healing. But I think the emotional scars, uh, I don't know if those ever heal.

"I mean, that's tough. It's really tough.  I don't think it's OK for an 82-year-old man to be attacked in his home in the middle of the night because of whatever his wife does for work."

Adding to the emotional scars for the whole family is how some reacted.

"I haven't slept since the night my father was attacked," Alexandra said. "What happened to him is one thing; what the outside world did with that for their own political fodder, is what's much harder for us to handle as a family. I don't care who you are and who you vote for. Nobody should think it is funny that an 82-year-old man got attacked in his home. And yet, like, a sitting governor and a wannabe governor and members of Congress were laughing about it."

Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Ariz. "She's losing the gavel but finding the hammer!"

Alexandra said, "The hardest part to deal with is, how do we talk about how the media landscape used that event for tweets, for clicks?"

"What does your mom say about that?"

"My mother leans into her faith. She has to believe in America. She has to believe in God. She has to believe in the Democratic Party.

"She has to believe in the future of America. I don't!"

Nancy Pelosi will retire from House leadership when her term as Speaker ends next month, but will continue to serve as she has since 1987.

"My mom loves to tell the story about how she first ran for Congress. I was the youngest of five, so I was the only one left at home. And I was 16 years old, and my mom came to me and she said, 'Mommy has a chance to run for Congress. Do you think I should do it? I won't do it without your permission.' And I said, 'Mom, get a life!' What teenager doesn't want their mom out of the house? Yes, go! Right? Fine.

"So, 35 years later, we're sitting in the ICU. And I said to my mom, 'If I had known what I was signing up for, I never would have given you my permission."

"Now I told her that in the ICU. My father says, 'You can't say that, that's not fair. You can't say you wouldn't have let her go and live her life. What you can say is, today, if she came to you and asked for permission, you'd say, 'No way.'"

Nancy and Paul Pelosi at the Kennedy Center.  CBS News

Paul Pelosi appeared in public for the first time since the attack at the Kennedy Center Honors this past week. He received a standing ovation.

"As I'm wrestling with all of this dark stuff, my father keeps telling me that it's really important to say that it was worth it," Alexandra said. "I don't know that it was worth it. I'm wrestling with whether or not any of this was worth it. But my father, still, says it was worth it, that she got to live her dreams, and that for him, that was worth it. Even after everything he's been through, he still says it was worth it."

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Story produced by Alan Golds. Editor: Ed Givnish. 

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