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The political newcomer who forced Ralph Hall into a Texas runoff

Welcome to another edition of Five Questions!

This week we're in Heath, Tex., meeting with John Ratcliffe, a Republican who's forced Rep. Ralph Hall (R-Tex.) into a runoff in the 4th Congressional District. The 17-term incumbent failed to secure 50 percent support in a six-way primary -- a once-inconceivable feat since Hall has never earned less than 50 percent in a primary or general election since his first congressional win in 1980. Whoever prevails in late May will coast to victory in November because the district -- which stretches from outside Dallas all the way to Louisiana -- is solidly Republican.

John Ratcliffe, his two daughters, and his wife, Michele. (Image courtesy of Ratcliffe for Congress)

Ratcliffe, 48, served as U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Texas during the George W. Bush administration, is a former mayor of Heath and now is a Dallas-based partner in the Ashcroft Law Firm, run by former attorney general John Ashcroft.

Below is a transcript of part of an interview conducted Tuesday, edited for brevity.

1. Your opponent has said that Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) should resign as House leader since congressional approval has slipped into the single digits. Do you agree?

I’ve been like a lot of Republicans, thinking that our own leadership has contributed to some of the losses that we’ve had in national races and elections. But having said that, I’m not a guy that knows John Boehner. I don’t know any of the senior leadership. If I were fortunate enough to be sent to Congress, what I would like the opportunity to do is sit down with all the folks that are interested in being in leadership and deciding for myself who I think has the best plan for helping Republicans start winning again. I don’t know who that’s going to be.

I don’t even know -- do I write it down on a piece of paper? Do I push a button? I don’t know how that process works. But the fact is that as Republicans we’re tired of seeing our party get outworked, outsmarted and outmaneuvered by [President] Obama and the Democrats.

2. As a former U.S. attorney, you must have an opinion of Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.?

He’s replete with examples of selective enforcement of the law.... Look at DOMA. Essentially we didn’t need a  Supreme Court determination on that law, because Eric Holder said well in advance of the ruling that it was a law they weren’t going to enforce. The Department of Justice is to be decidedly apolitical, and you take an oath and swear an allegiance to uphold the Constitution of the United States. Congress makes the laws, and you enforce the laws.

3. As a former U.S. attorney with responsibility for 43 Texas counties, you often dealt with immigration. What would you do to address that problem?

It’s a crime to enter the country illegally. It’s not a crime to be in the country illegally. You can come in the country legally and then you can have your visa expired and be out of status. And the penalty for that is to be deported, not to be incarcerated. If you made it a crime to be unlawfully present in the United States, you would have people who would effectively self-deport, if the consequences of being identified and apprehended were to be incarcerated rather than sent across an imaginary line. I think that would contribute to our ability to deal with the problem.

4. You work for a law firm run by former attorney general John Ashcroft. Some people around here have said that you working for Ashcroft means you’re no better than Hall, because Ashcroft runs a D.C.-based lobbying firm and law firm. So what’s the deal?

I’ve never done lobbying or been a partner in a lobbying group.

You can see the irony in Ralph Hall claiming that a guy who's not a lobbyist when Ralph Hall gets all his money from lobbyists and owns property in Washington, D.C. I’ve never spent a night in Washington that wasn’t in a hotel room. I’ve never lived there. Am I associated with John Ashcroft? Absolutely, and proud to be. He’s a great American and has been an inspiration to me on a lot of fronts. But I think the numbers reflect that none of that is sticking, because it’s not true.

5. You were part of Mitt Romney's transition team that was scoping out potential appointees before Election Day, and you led the vetting process for possible Cabinet secretaries and other senior government jobs. What would you be doing for President Romney right now if he were in the White House? Would you be at the Justice Department?


Read previous "Five Questions" with New Hampshire Republican congressional candidate Dan InnisKansas Republican Senate candidate Milton Wolf and Arizona Democratic congressional candidate Ruben Gallego.

Ed O’Keefe is covering the 2016 presidential campaign, with a focus on Jeb Bush and other Republican candidates. He's covered presidential and congressional politics since 2008. Off the trail, he's covered Capitol Hill, federal agencies and the federal workforce, and spent a brief time covering the war in Iraq.

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