The “Liberated” Pelosi Should Now Step Down As Speaker

Below is my column in the Hill newspaper on the controversial conduct of Speaker Nancy Pelosi at the State of the Union this week. Pelosi broke with tradition on three points: changing the greeting for the President, making demonstrations of criticism from the Speaker’s chair, and ripping up the address in protest. I previously called upon Pelosi to apologize and commit to maintaining decades of tradition for the Speaker to be neutral in the State of the Union to represent the House as a whole — Republicans and Democrats. Pelosi yesterday however doubled down and declared her protests to be perfectly appropriate and liberating. Her declaration of being “liberated” is itself both confirmatory and chilling. She liberated herself from traditions of neutrality that extends back centuries to the English Parliament.

Now liberating from rules and tradition, Pelosi is free to convert the Speakership into a more partisan role at the SOTU, including the use of the position to mock, troll, or taunt a president addressing both houses. I have joined others in criticizing Trump’s failure to shake the hand of Pelosi and his highly inappropriate comments yesterday questioning Pelosi’s and Romney’s faith. However, that does not give Pelosi license to violate this important and unbroken tradition as Speaker at the State of the Union. Indeed, the silence of Democratic members in the face of Pelosi shattering decades of tradition is equally shocking. In remaining silent, Democrats of both houses have lost any moral high ground.

Here is the column:

The House has its share of infamies, great and small, real and symbolic, and has been the scene of personal infamies from brawls to canings. But the conduct of Speaker Nancy Pelosi at the State of the Union address this week will go down as a day of infamy for the chamber as an institution. It has long been a tradition for House speakers to remain stoic and neutral in listening to the address. However, Pelosi seemed to be intent on mocking President Trump from behind his back with sophomoric facial grimaces and head shaking, culminating in her ripping up a copy of his address.

Her drop the mic moment will have a lasting impact on the House. While many will celebrate her trolling of the president, she tore up something far more important than a speech. Pelosi has shredded decades of tradition, decorum and civility that the nation could use now more than ever. The House speaker is more than a political partisan, particularly when carrying out functions such as the State of the Union address. A president appears in the House as a guest of both chambers of Congress. The House speaker represents not her party or herself but the entirety of the chamber. At that moment, she must transcend her own political ambitions and loyalties.

Tensions for this address were high. The House impeachment managers sat as a group in front of the president as a reminder of the ongoing trial. That can be excused as a silent but pointed message from the Democrats. Trump hardly covered himself with glory by not shaking hands with Pelosi. I also strongly disliked elements of his address which bordered on “check under your seat” moments, and the awarding of conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh with the Presidential Medal of Freedom inside the House gallery like a Mardi Gras bead toss. However, if Trump made the State of the Union look like Oprah, then Pelosi made it look like Jerry Springer.

What followed was an utter disgrace. First, Pelosi dropped the traditional greeting before the start of the address, “Members of Congress, I have the high privilege and distinct honor of presenting to you the president of the United States.” Instead, she simply announced, “Members of Congress, the president of the United States.” It was extremely petty and profoundly inappropriate. Putting aside the fact that this is not her tradition, but that of the House, it is no excuse to note that the president was impeached.

Such an indignity was not imposed on President Clinton during his own impeachment proceeding, and anyone respecting due process would note that Trump has been accused, not convicted, at this point in the constitutional process. Pelosi proceeded to repeatedly shake her head, mouth words to others, and visibly disagree with the address. It was like some distempered distracting performance art behind the president.

My revulsion over this has nothing to do with impeachment. Six years ago, I wrote a column denouncing Supreme Court Associate Justice Samuel Alito for mouthing the words “not true” when President Obama used his address to criticize the court for its decision in the Citizens United case. I considered his response to be a disgrace and wrote a column criticizing Chief Justice John Roberts for not publicly chastising Alito for breach of tradition. Instead, Roberts seemed to defend Alito in criticizing Obama for his “very troubling” language and saying that it was unfair to criticize the court when the justices, “according to the requirements of protocol,” have “to sit there expressionless.” That was not unfair. That was being judicious.

I also wrote a column denouncing Republican Representative Joe Wilson, who shouted “you lie!” at Obama during his State of the Union address in 2009. Wilson should have been severely sanctioned for that breach. When I wrote those columns, I had never imagined that a House speaker would engage in conduct far in excess of those controversies. After all, House speakers often have been required to sit through addresses they despised from presidents of the opposing party. The House speaker is third in line of succession to the presidency and the representative of the chamber as a whole. She is not some Sinead O’Connor ripping up a photograph of the pope on “Saturday Night Live” while shouting aloud “fight the real enemy!”

Pelosi, like her predecessors, is supposed to remain stone faced during the address even if the president leaves her personally enraged. Indeed, House speakers have been the authority who kept other members in silent deference and respect, if not to the president, then to the office. However, Pelosi appeared to goad the mob, like a high schooler making mad little faces behind the school principal at an assembly. It worked as members protested and interrupted Trump. Pelosi became another Democratic leader, little more than a twitching embodiment of this age of rage.

This is not to suggest that the House has always listened to its better angels. More than 180 years ago, a confrontation between Democratic Representative Jonathan Cilley and Whig Representative William Graves led to a duel over what Graves viewed as a slight on the House floor. In February 1838, the two decided to meet in Maryland for a duel with rifles, and Graves killed Cilley after both missed each other twice. In response, the House quickly pushed forward antidueling legislation in Congress.

Pelosi has demolished decades of tradition with this poorly considered moment. Of course, many will celebrate her conduct and be thrilled by the insult to Trump. However, even those of us who disagree with his policies should consider what Pelosi destroyed in her moment of rage. She shredded the pretense of governing with civility and dignity in the House. Notably, she did not wait to rip up her copy of the speech until after she left the House floor. Pelosi wanted to do it at the end of the speech, in front of the camera, with the president still in the chamber.

That act was more important to Pelosi than preserving the tradition of her office. In doing so, she forfeited the right to occupy that office. If Pelosi cannot maintain the dignity and neutrality of her office at the State of the Union, she should resign as the speaker of the House of Representatives.

Jonathan Turley is the Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law for George Washington University and served as the last lead counsel during a Senate impeachment trial. He testified as a witness expert in the House Judiciary Committee hearing during the impeachment inquiry of President Trump.

196 thoughts on “The “Liberated” Pelosi Should Now Step Down As Speaker”

  1. This kind of drama comes with a Trump presidency. No matter how you feel about the man, you have to admit, he thrives on this kind of stuff.

    The real danger to democrats and their allies in the media who leap into the mud pit with Trump is: they’re the ones who will come out dirty.

    With Trump – for whatever reason – it’s all water off a duck’s back.

    But I agree with Professor Turley that the greatest danger of all is the lasting damage this kind of behavior is inflicting on our government’s institutions, precedents, and norms.

  2. J H Kunstler has a good article on this silliness:

    Slapstick Suicide

    With Adam Schiff and Jerrold Nadler cast as Laurel and Hardy, the Democratic Party entered the slapstick phase of its self-destruction, moving from one botched scheme to the next amidst a chaos of falling pianos, splintered two-by-fours, and crashed bi-planes. The old 1930s screen comedies usually also featured a “grand dame” character making herself ridiculous, like Margaret Dumont in Duck Soup, and congressional central casting has fashioned just such a late-career role for Nancy Pelosi, all fluster and spleen, and well-supplied with comic props like the carefully pre-torn State of the Union address she ceremoniously sundered on Tuesday night. Can someone drop an anvil on her, please?

    You also had to love the costuming for the great occasion: the congressional Democratic ladies all decked out in white robes, like an angel choir from The Green Pastures, exuding virtue and chastity while they mugged for the cameras — as if they never turned a campaign contribution into a Cadillac Escalade or a vacation in Taormina. Next year, perhaps, they’ll get rigged with wires and downy wings and fly around the chamber singing “Didn’t Ol’ Pharoah Get Lost” while the president splutters at the podium.

    That spectacle was immediately followed by the Keystone Kops Iowa caucus, which has not really been resolved three days later as I write, though 100 percent of the vote is supposedly counted (cue, laughter). Many of the reporting counties have fewer voters than the average Methodist college student body, and somehow it was hard to tally the numbers for days on end? Party chairman Tom Perez called for a do-over. That’ll sure have a ton of cred. By the time it’s done, the action will have moved on from New Hampshire to Nevada, and Gawd knows what pratfalls await there (in a state founded literally on bilking the credulous).

    Considering they are now the official party of chaos, all of this colorful comic disorder may have a purpose behind it: to demonstrate that the United States is now too incompetent to hold an election, and therefore whatever happens on November 3 will have to be disputed. Cue Lawfare, the Dem’s designated sedition generator. They’ll step in and gum up the system with so much litigation that the ghost of Samuel J. Tilden will be heard screaming for mercy somewhere high above the capitol’s grand dome.

    Unless, of course, the party manages to complete its drawn-out suicide at the Milwaukee convention. The Iowa fiasco was universally seen as an effort to trip-up Bernie Sanders, the elderly Leninist who, ironically, seeks to turn the entire federal bureaucracy into a colossal version of the very Iowa caucus that was engineered to thwart him. It’s looking at this point like nobody will go into the convention with a chance to clinch the nomination and a dire battle will ensue. Bernie has not forgotten the dirty that was done to him last time by Mrs. Clinton’s corps of flying monkey super-delegates. Some of the young Bernie Broz in charge of this-and-that on the campaign have been recorded threatening violence and mayhem in the event of such a dirty replay. At best, the party may split up into two or more rump parties, a la the 1860 contest, and that will be the end of them.

    Meanwhile, in case you have forgotten, scores of public officials from the Obama administration stand to be indicted as we enter the heart of the spring primary season. On top of three failed seditious attempts to overthrow Mr. Trump since 2016, a cavalcade of perp walks for all that may finally force the recognition among the battered true believers in the Holy Church of Maddow that a genuine coup d’état has been running for three solid years, whether or not you like Donald Trump. They came close to turning the USA into a banana republic.

    The news media is saying that President Trump had “his best week ever.” My sense of him hasn’t changed: he remains the Golden Golem of Greatness, a kind of mystical and mystifying comic figure himself, but not of the 1930s slapstick sort, more like a character drawn from the neo-gothic Joker phase of American history — and, hey, he really did spring full-blown on the scene from our real-life Gotham City. I was impressed, during his Thursday post-acquittal White House gala, at the stunning incoherence of his remarks, his facility for leaving absolutely every thought hanging unfinished in mid-sentence as he turned to the next uncompleted thought. I can’t say for sure that this makes him an ineffective manager of the nation’s affairs, but it does leave you kind of wondering. The fact remains, though, that his antagonists have behaved much worse, and now they are going to be punished.

    Squeeky Fromm
    Girl Reporter

    1. I tend to agree with the author’s take on Trump’s free-wheeling victory lap celebration. I think that should have been private, not televised, unless it was scripted and Trump stayed on script. Trump meandering all over with his off the cuff incoherent commentary did not serve anyone but his critics.

      1. I am still wondering what’s funny about Jim Jordan’s ears. Trump made some unfinished comment about Jim Jordan’s ears. What about his ears?

        This is not good when a televised presidential address leaves one wondering what’s funny about someone’s ears.

  3. So Pelosi violates a few norms during the State of the Union and JT wants her to resign, but Trump sends years violating every norm and decency he can and JT is not just peachy with him in office, but writes many posts defending him? Nice to know that JT has a consistent standard.

    1. MollyG:

      Given your comment, I’ll assume your standard is double JT’s. Or, as we learned in kindergarten, it’s written out as “I know you are, but what am I.”

  4. Well said. The whole stupid nuisance of national politics, which is forced on us whether we like it or not (a kind of unfreedom), is wearying. I just don’t think Pelosi’s theatrical act at this point is particularly exceptional in its degenerative quality. Perhaps it’s a symbolic milestone, but there are other obscenities and insults performed by politicians, the courts, and the permanent national security bureaucracy (aka Deep State) that have wreaked vastly worse damage on our institutions than this: the theft of the 2000 election, the invasion of Iraq on false pretenses with no accountability for the architects and policy makers who were responsible for it, the institutionalization of torture (not insignificantly, given recent events, with an assist from Alan Dershowitz and his idea for “torture warrants”), with a similar lack of accountability for the perpetrators, who just cover it up under the rubric of “sources and methods”, the erection of our very own gulag Kafka prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, the wholesale subversion of the 4th amendment by the intelligence agencies via the universal mass surveillance that Edward Snowden exposed, the imprisonment and slow-motion execution of Julian Assange for exposing information about the endless illegal, or dubiously legal, wars and drone assassinations that the public is entitled to know (and thereby the destruction of the First Amendment), the declaration by a U.S. president that he can kill U.S. citizens without charge or trial on his own say so that the target is a terrorist – again, with assists from bootlicking legalists (and thereby the destruction of the 5th Amendment), the cultivation of white supremacist and neofascist movements by the president . . . among other things to numerous to name. In light of all this, Pelosi’s tantrum just seems like a mis-hit on open mic night. Nonetheless, Turley’s indignant observations are still worthwhile, as they’re the only foundation on which something resembling a free society may be rebuilt.

  5. This could have been a good article but Prof. Turley just HAD to bring up his previous articles. The issue is not what members of the audience have done, but what Pelosi did. The woman has a long history of improper conduct and Democrats were stupid to vote her back in as Speaker of the House. She’s a lightning rod but she’s also corrupt and does not deserve the position. She is part of an element in Congress that is in their own world and completely out of touch with the nation. There are decent Congressmen, Democrats as well as Republicans, but Pelosi is not one of them. She and her cohorts are driving this country toward division and possible civil war. It’s happened before.

  6. “I have joined others in criticizing Trump’s failure to shake the hand of Pelosi and his highly inappropriate comments yesterday in questions Pelosi’s and Romney’s faith.”

    I think that Trump and Pence prearranged their non-handshake so that when he was criticized for not shaking Pelosi’s hand he could point out that he didn’t shake hands with Pence either. And if the good professor was pilloried in the print and broadcast media for over three years and falsely accused of something every month would he shake the hand of the person who was a prime mover in those attacks?

    As for Romney, the notion of a former private equity guy who cost thousands of people their jobs while raking in enormous fees for himself lecturing the Senate on conscience and morality sounds like an article from The Onion or the Babylon Bee.

    1. Pelosi abused her position on the dais as Speaker by extending her hand in the first place. It was not her place to initiate the exchange. He was there to hand her a document, a formal requirement of the event, which he did.

      In any case, it was a stunt, which JT is simply too decent to see. She was ‘extending the hand of friendship’ as she is always willing to do; just like she is always ‘praying for the President’ who she believes is in such a ‘dark’ and ‘deluded’ state of mind. Her contempt is blatant and shameless and entirely inappropriate to her role as #3 in line to the Presidency.

      JT is right that she should resign from her post immediately. But she won’t. The world JT keeps imagining, a decent world where people behave as they should, does not exist. As long as our mainstream press is in bed with political and intelligence operatives and functioning as tabloids, the national culture will remain hysterical and degraded and only people willing to fight back – like the much maligned Trump – will be able to get anything positive done. (He’s the first in many a Presidency, frankly, since usually they compromise themselves to the point that the only beneficiaries are the bevy of corporate lobbyists who end up writing 90% of all passed legislation).

      The nice honorable world JT lives in – which I both admire and respect – unfortunately is largely a figment of our collective imagination at this point. As Trump might tweet:


  7. One thing’s for sure.
    If pelosi can’t control herself, can’t keep from freaking out over a speech, she certainly doesn’t need to be 2 heartbeats away from the nuke button that can blow up the entire world and kill all life on earth in a few hours.

  8. All of you are acting manic like the world is ending. Unplug from your wifi and interact with with real, live, people. Listen to their concerns: they have nothing to do with Trump, Pelosi, SOTU, etc.

    Besides, if this isn’t how the world ends then we at home are not participating.


  9. The President was invited to speak as a guest. You don’t disrespect your guests or the people they invite. She disrespected everyone single one of them. At this point the President going forward should do the SOTU on TV or some other media and no longer attend the House so as to be trolled. Lastly it was a great speech his best to-date..

  10. Professor Turley has a point. He apparently believes in very strict etiquette for our politicians. That isn’t wrong but he doesn’t seem to recognize that divisions have surpassed the ability of our legislators to regulate themselves. Harry Reid admitted he lied about Romney in the Senate knowing full well nothing would happen to him and nothing did. The other problem is that our Legislators don’t have the verbal skills to maintain the desired etiquette while skewering their adversaries.

    1. The Professor speaks as if we lived in a political society which featured regulated conflict and competition. Well, that would be nice. We haven’t lived in the world for some time. And it isn’t the fault of the starboard side that we do not.

      One thing which might have helped in some other circumstance would be for the chambers to elect all of their officers (bar the floor leaders and committee chairmen) from outside the membership of the body itself. No clue why we have to have a partisan Speaker, no clue why the President pro tem of the Senate always has to be an octogenarian or nonagenarian who didn’t know when to retire, and no clue why either of these offices is in the order of Presidential succession.

      Helped in some other circumstance. You’ll notice across the pond the formerly scrupulously nonpartisan Speaker of the Commons took sides in the Brexit controversy and you’ll notice all our Hawaiian judges with their nationwide injunctions in this country.

      1. Either Turley is living in a world that doesn’t exist, or he is keeping up the charade so that Democrats will still invite him to testify before a Democratic Congress. Because, if he comes right out and says that Democrats have lost their minds, it is over for him. He will get fired to boot.

        This way, by maintaining the charade, he can do much good work before he is outed.

        Squeeky Fromm
        Girl Reporter

  11. I am not sure how many times President Trump has to say this, but he is reluctant to shake anyone’s hands, and will not at meal times, due to germs being spread. I have seen him interviewed where he says that. AND that was when he was running for office. So, i see that as no big deal whatsoever………

    1. If you watch a video of Trump entering and exiting the House of Representative chambers, it shows Trump shaking hands with quite a few people.

      1. Maybe, but Nancy is from San Fran where they have tons of human poop and used syringes in the streets. I would not want to shake anybody’s hand who is from San Fran. It has become a cess pool, literally.

        Squeeky Fromm
        Girl Reporter

        1. I am waiting for something I hope never occurs. Disease that spreads through San Francisco via people, shoes, insects, rats, birds etc that then impacts everyone including the well off that think they are isolated from such happenings and do nothing to clean up the city. Before sanitation the life span was much lower. Disease doesn’t do a wallet biopsy..

          1. A person who is vile, hollow and subhuman would wish you to suffer the consequences of Coronavirus full throttle for your callous statement. I am not that person but there undoubtedly are people in your universe who would wish the same gutter thinking as yours

            Allan shows his true stripes

            1. ” for your callous statement.”

              Callous? I said: “for something I hope never occurs” Let me repeat, I HOPE NEVER OCCURS.

              Anonymous the Stupid you are dumber than the Sh!t in the streets of San Francisco.

  12. To pick one example among many, I thought it was a modern tradition and reasonable norm to release one’s tax-returns prior to becoming president.

    One would think not doing so is slightly more outrageous and suspect and opaque than tearing in half papers printed with a publicly made speech.

    The disproportionality is laughable.

    Now I share the sentiment of a return to accepted and written decorum, as we should be an exemplar to the rest of the world, but if President Barf acts like a careless ignorant authoritarian-styled dumbbell because norms aren’t laws, then let’s all settle down on the faux outrage when the speaker mildly does it.

    1. It is one thing to release a personal tax return, but Trump is a business person. If he releases his tax return, then he also releases confidential business info which his competitors can use.

      Squeeky Fromm
      Girl Reporter

    2. “To pick one example among many, I thought it was a modern tradition and reasonable norm to release ….”

      When will you ever return my blue stained dress?!? and when will you ever apologize for using your Presidential Office to silence me, and your barfy wife to slander me?


  13. I’d agree that Nancy should go. She’s not playing with a full deck. From an R standpoint, its great she tore up Trump’s speech, Think if she’d just acted normal -everyone would be criticizing Trump for not shaking her hand. Anyway, if she can’t act like the Speaker of the House, and respect the POTUS, then the D’s need to find someone who can.

    1. She’s nearly 80 and has been in Congress for 33 years. Term limits, please.

  14. Can everyone stop with the He didn’t shake her hand stuff..? He didn’t shake Pence’s hand either..he gave the copies of the speech and turned around quickly to start. The one with the problem is the mentally unstable Pelosi with her Tardive dyskinesia.

    1. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi broke congressional tradition by introducing President Donald Trump as only “the president of the United States.”
      Previous House speakers have introduced the sitting commander in chief by saying they had the “high privilege and distinct honor of presenting to you the president of the United States.”

  15. PELOSI is UNSTABLE, She was mumbling at the SOU, She can’t put together a sentence, she has fits/anger deep anger, she thinks she is a Queen/King.

    She threatens people with her power as speaker. She is under stress from the radical left. She just needs to go. Nancy should resign/retire and go back to her walled house in dirty San Francisco or her Napa Winery?

    1. TRUMPY is UNSTABLE, He was mumbling at the SOU, He can’t put together a sentence, he has fits/anger deep anger, he thinks he is a Queen/King.

      He threatens people with his power as president. He is under stress from the radical right. He just needs to go. Donny should resign/retire and go back to his walled house in dirty NY or his Mar-a-Lago?

      1. Do they have good medical where you are? I was thinking you might get treatment for your TDS over the next 5 years.

      2. Dave, your post would be more interesting if you complained and then documented the facts behind your complaints. Over and over you say things but it is impossible to agree or disagree without facts and comparisons with his predecessors.

    2. Quite right. Except there is no way she will leave under her own steam. Responsible members in her Party should unseat her.


      There aren’t any!

  16. How can you possibly say this after listening to Trump yesterday. I am losing faith in you and beginning to think you have a supreme agenda!

    1. Martha Nelson – have you ever been pissed because people screwed you over? Have you ever vented about it? This President has been through three years of investigations, including trying to “FIRE HIM” from his job. The called him everything but a white man. Was he supposed to not fire back? Is he not The Donald?

      He was a lot nicer about it then I would have been.

    2. I am losing faith in you and beginning to think you have a supreme agenda!

      The pursuit of justice in this country you would find extremely upsetting. And the reason you would is that you are a person of unjust disposition. You might fancy people are getting ‘revenge’ on you, but pain is what you’ve earned.

  17. I feel like the Allies when they were trying to decide where and when to assassinate Hitler. They finally decided not to do it because Hitler was the best general they had. 😉
    In this case, with Pelosi in place, Trump is sure to be re-elected. The Iowa caucus was/is a mess and it appears Bernie actually won although they are throwing the delegates to Pete. Besides, unless AOC replaced Nancy, it would be a blood bath for the Speakerhood.

    1. paul c

      If the right-wing DNC can’t stop Bernie, for sure, they’ll provide as little help as possible to get him elected. The owners of BOTH parties will not allow us to have Medical care like that in every other modern country nor will they allow our bloated military/security budgets to be downsized to a more reasonable level.

    2. Good point PaulCS! She is the face of evil and stupidity. Someone who sympathizes with MS-13 members. I wish that dissidents in San Fran would drop off their poop and garbage outside the gates of her home, and the homes of every elected Democrat in that area, and even chunk bags of poop over the walls when they have walls. If they like pooping homeless junkies, then they should enjoy the atmosphere too!

      Squeeky Fromm
      Girl Reporter

  18. I admit I had to double take at the end of President Trump’s State of the Union Speech- I saw a bitter, angry beyond speaking, woman violently reacting to a man’s words- I thought my ex-wife was now Speaker of the House!

  19. Trump First. It’s amazing he can rip up the Constitution but she has to step down for a act of silent protest. Oh I forgot …if the President does it it’s legal.

    It’s about time someone stood up to him.

    1. When interviewing suspects sometimes if you just give them all the latitude and platitude they want they will shaft themselves in the end every time. All you have to do is sit back and let their ego take control over them and their true nature comes out. Before they know it they’ve shown the world the scoundrels for which they are and their guilt.

      Perhaps we should just let these politicians misbehave and show their true colors to increasingly greater numbers of disgusted voters. Then eventually their day of reckoning will come about one election and they will be gone. The greater their false sense of security, the faster their demise.

      Unfortunately, too many people are willing to give deference to pols they fawn over, so it doesn’t always happen soon enough. This is one of the largest reasons for which corruption is tolerated here. They want their perceived enemies destroyed completely but if their pol does the same act they blame the accuser or defend their guy. It is pathetic and dishonorable, but it is prevalent in human behavior.

      1. “too many people are willing to give deference to pols they fawn over . . . They want their perceived enemies destroyed completely but if their pol does the same act they blame the accuser or defend their guy. It is pathetic and dishonorable, but it is prevalent in human behavior.”

        Very true. That is why politicians rarely get a day of reckoning.

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