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Tuesday, March 22nd on WGVU Public Television, FRONTLINE will air and begin streaming Pelosi’s Power— the first, in-depth documentary feature on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi life and legacy.


Spanning three decades, Pelosi’s Power examines how Pelosi has gained and wielded power and faced grave challenges to her leadership and to American democracy from Trump and his allies. Airing during Women’s History Month, it’s an incisive look at Pelosi’s rise. WGVU talks with correspondent, Michael Kirk.

Michael Kirk: It takes about six months to put one of these things together, so there's a little bit of crystal ball gazing going on, too when you're doing this. So, if you go back six months, this was the beginning of Build Back Better. This was Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema being reluctant in the Senate to pass much. But here's Pelosi the most powerful woman probably in the history of American politics. Who has the job of shouldering it through at least the House and hopefully maybe even through the Senate because of her relationship with Manchin. So, our theory was it's a good place to stand and see where we are right now or where Biden is. Where everybody is without basically following Biden. Let's go in there. When somebody told me right away, as I was researching this, she's the primary fund raising and most successful targets for the conservative Republicans is Nancy Pelosi. And in some ways because of that, she's the most successful fundraiser for the Democrats because the Republicans don’t like her. Then I thought, okay here we've got a powerful, controversial figure who nobody has ever made a documentary film about. So, that was enough for me.

Patrick Center: The launching point in this documentary, I've had the pleasure of watching. There's a great moment where either one of the journalists or an author from one of the books about Nancy Pelosi asked the question, “what did you learn from your father?” And she says, “he taught me how to count.”

Michael Kirk: That's right. Of all the things about Nancy Pelosi that I did not know, one of them was the extent to which she is the consummate political operative. She knows what people want and what it will take to get them. Both among her members and among her own voters. She learned it at the hands of her father. The very successful, charismatic and powerful leader of the Baltimore Democratic Party. You can imagine what inherent in all those descriptions of him. And she ran for her dad as a little girl, an 11-year old, a part of the process called the Favor File which was people lined up outside their row house came in and ask for things they were then granted those things. Their name was kept in a book, and the favor having been done for them, the mayor or little Nancy or her mom would come looking for a favor from the voter in the future. She has carried that and developed it fairly well in the United States House of Representatives. This is her third term as Speaker of the House. Unheard of and the only woman ever to hold that job. She is a real tough, tough guy, tough person in the moments where things have had to happen. And it makes her both powerful and effective and loathed by some people in the House of Representatives.

Patrick Center: That loathing, I can’t think of a time when I haven't listened to a Republican running for office and the narrator using the name somewhere in that 30 second spot Nancy Pelosi’s name is often used. What is the trigger there? What is it about her that Republicans and conservatives use to leverage?

Michael Kirk: She's one of the original partisan players in Washington. Been there since 1987. A woman, one of only 23 women, in the House of Representatives. When she went in, out of 435 seats, most of those women were the widows of former congressmen who had died. Nancy was there on her own merits battling, battling, battling AIDs, all these other issues. Most of which put her right in the gun sights, not literally obviously, of the Republicans on the other side of the aisle. As they were themselves going through tremendous changes and becoming more and more conservative. So, you have a progressive. You have a woman, very rare item, and you have a someone who’s from California and very partisan. Doesn't care at all about doing deals with Republicans. Wants to get it done, steam rolls it through and is aggressive about it. And from her very first days as the Speaker and the Minority Leader before that. She takes on George W. Bush in the middle of the Iraq War. So, now you've got this woman aggressive, liberal, progressive in a Congress and a country that were becoming more and more divided, partisan and conservative rejecting and resisting the way she acted in the Congress.

Patrick Center: The program opens with January 6th and the voices of those who are now in the building chanting “Nancy. Come out Nancy.” Take us through that and her role the next morning she takes the lead on this.

Michael Kirk: She says to one reporter, a reporter in the book, Susan Page has written a biography of her. What was it like to have them coming after you? She said, “I am not afraid of them. I wasn't afraid of them. Besides,” and she looks down at her shoes, four-inch spiked heels, shoes, “Besides I have these I could attack them in the eyes” she says. She's very aggressive in that way about what happened and very angry and very worried. Remember, she was second in line to be President of the United States. She believes President Donald Trump was crazy. She first calls with Chuck Schumer, the head of the Democratic Senate. She calls Republican Vice President, Mike Pence, whose life was threatened that day as well as hers and tries to get him to invoke the 25th Amendment which would remove Trump from office. He would even come to the phone. She then calls General Mark Milley, the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to make sure Trump can't get his hands on either the National Guard or a nuclear weapon. Wants an assurance from the most powerful general in America that such things wouldn’t happen. He said, “I will never let that happen”. So, Pelosi from the very beginning there, decides that the January 6th event is an insurrection. A coup. That President Trump is crazy and is determined to do what she can as long as she is Speaker of the House to call him to task. Hence the January 6th Commission and to protect from her point of view, the American people and the democratic process in the Congress from whatever is happening because of that insurrection. And members of the Senate and the House who participated in it by aiding and abetting what she calls the insurrectionists. People like Josh Hawley and many others.

Patrick Center: We are here in Grand Rapids; home of President Gerald R. Ford, and I've spoken with a number of political types who will describe Gerald Ford as somebody who understood the art of politics. The idea that there is always room for compromise to move policy forward. Is there a compromise somewhere in Nancy Pelosi bones?

Michael Kirk: Well, we've seen it. It happened once around the financial collapse in 2008 where she, John Boehner, the Minority Leader at the time, couldn't get enough Republican votes together.

She decided to compromise with the Republicans. It was very hard, both for the Democrats to take bailing out banks, you know, that had been profligate. Giving them $800 billion for their profligacy and their carelessness and their greed. That was a hard, bitter pill to swallow. And when the Republicans couldn't get enough votes, didn't go along, and the Democrats were punished in the polls in 2010, she I think decided to never again in the compromise department. That she was going to go forward and get it done. That the new Republicans, not the ones Gerald Ford was the leader of, but the new Republicans were never going to cooperate, never going to compromise and neither would she. That's the state of the division we're in right now.

Who knows whether she's right, but it's certainly what she believes.

Patrick Center: Frontline presents Pelosi’s Power airing tonight at 10 o'clock on WGVU public television. Reporter, journalist Michael Kirk, thank you so much for your time.

Michal Kirk: My pleasure. Thanks for having me.

Patrick joined WGVU Public Media in December, 2008 after eight years of investigative reporting at Grand Rapids' WOOD-TV8 and three years at WYTV News Channel 33 in Youngstown, Ohio. As News and Public Affairs Director, Patrick manages our daily radio news operation and public interest television programming. An award-winning reporter, Patrick has won multiple Michigan Associated Press Best Reporter/Anchor awards and is a three-time Academy of Television Arts & Sciences EMMY Award winner with 14 nominations.