The annual luncheon of the pro-embargo U.S. Cuba Democracy PAC brought a parade of elected officials to the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables Monday, mostly to toast the departing Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, and to breathe a collective sigh of relief that a Democratic-controlled Congress did not lift trade and travel restrictions to the communist island.
Sen. Bob Menendez, a Cuban-American Democrat from New Jersey, got choked p when praising Diaz-Balart, whom he called "one of the most extraordinary people I have known in public life."
"When it comes to the topic of Cuba, first comes Cuba and then comes the party," Menendez said.
And outgoing Rep. Kendrick Meek, who lost a three-way Florida Senate race to Marco Rubio and looked a little downtrodden, said he looked forward to "standing up for what's right'' as a private citizen -- "something that I'm not used to but I'm pretty sure that I could become used to," Meek added.
More cheery Republicans included Rep.-elect David Rivera, who said he has already begun enlisting incoming House freshmen to the Cuban cause.
"I have already received my marching orders from Lincoln Diaz-Balart," said Rivera, who was later chased by a posse of reporters looking for him to comment about his ties to a secret gambling deal. (Rivera did not comment.)
Rubio, who also did not take question from the press, received a star's welcome among the largely Cuban-American Republican audience. He said advocates of more engagement with Cuba should not question U.S. policy but Cuban policy.
"Maybe we've gotten it wrong in other countries, but we've gotten it right in Cuba," he said.
Diaz-Balart's brother, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart of Miami, said he will be asking himself, "What would Lincoln do?" once his older sibling leaves the House.
"But I've got his phone number," he quipped.