In it, but not of it. TPM DC

WASHINGTON — Ted Cruz's biggest problem involves transcending his hyper-conservative voter base. Rand Paul's biggest problem is his foreign policy views. Marco Rubio's biggest problem is his support for immigration reform.

That's a synopsis of remarks by Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), a tea party-aligned freshman who candidly discussed the paths ahead for his three friends and fellow GOP senators who are eying the party's presidential nomination in 2016.

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The overarching message of Sen. Rand Paul’s (R-KY) newly launched presidential campaign is that he's “a different kind of Republican.”

If you take a glance at some of the secessionists, conspiracy theorists and other people who have floated in and out of Paul's orbit over the years, it's clear to see there's something to that.

Case in point: Rev. Jerry Stephenson, a local pastor who introduced Paul on Tuesday at his presidential campaign launch in Louisville, Kentucky. Speaking with journalists after the main event, Stephenson dog-whistled to those who believe President Obama is secretly a Muslim.

“In five years we’ll find out what [Obama’s] real religion is,” Stephenson said,according to BuzzFeed's McKay Coppins. The pastor added, "Once he’s out, he will ‘evolve’ like he did on gay marriage.”

Paul’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment from BuzzFeed on the pastor’s remarks.

Stephenson is far from the first person in the senator’s circle, however, to voice such a fringe belief. While it's important to note that Paul does not endorse every potentially inflammatory comment his associates make, these personalities within the senator's sphere could prove to be a liability to his presidential campaign.

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WASHINGTON — New York Sen. Chuck Schumer won't be the Democratic leader for 21 months. But the man who has locked up the support of top Democrats to replace Harry Reid is already facing a tough leadership test.

It's crunch time for President Barack Obama as he seeks to prevent Congress from achieving a veto-proof majority to scuttle a major deal to curtail Iran's nuclear program. Many Republicans are unhappy with the framework for an agreement to cut off Iran's paths to a bomb and are pushing legislation that the White House says would threaten the negotiations.

Republicans appear to have large majorities to pass it, and that includes support from a significant number of Democrats in both chambers. But the question of whether they achieve the two-thirds majority in the Senate could hinge on Schumer and the role he decides to play.

"He will play a big role," said one senior Senate Democratic aide.

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WASHINGTON — Rolling out his long-awaited presidential campaign on Tuesday, Rand Paul billed himself as "a different kind of Republican" who would defeat the "Washington machine."

"That's not who I am," he declared in Louisville, to cheers from an adoring crowd. "Both parties and the entire political system are to blame."

But how different is he from the traditional Republican politician?

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