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U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC to count its blessings

The powerful pro-Cuba embargo lobbying group will have a lot to celebrate Dec. 20 when it gathers at the Biltmore in Coral Gables for its annual luncheon -- in the company of seven Cuban-American members of Congress.

The event -- which will fete outgoing Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart -- will also welcome incoming Sen. Marco Rubio and Rep. David Rivera. Also to be recognized for their new posts: incoming House Foreign Affairs committee chair Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Mario Diaz-Balart, who just got a post on the House Appropriations Committee. Visiting for the event: New Jersey Cuban-American Democrats Sen. Robert Menendez and Rep. Albio Sires.

Both Florida senators, Bill Nelson and George LeMieux, are expected to attend, along with Broward Democrat Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a stalwart embargo defender. Several of Lincoln's friends will also be on hand, including Rep. Peter Roskam, R-Ill. and Rep. Thaddeus McCotter, R-Mich.

The same event last year featured the first "debate" of the Senate race that Rubio eventually won.

The PAC -- which before the November election had contributed more than $11 million to congressional elections since 2004 -- will also celebrate getting through the last two years without sustaining any significant hits to the economic embargo against Cuba.

Advocates of more engagement with Cuba had hoped to lift the travel ban with a sympathetic president and a Democratic-controlled House, but those efforts fell short. President Obama did lift some restrictions on travel for Cuban-Americans, but an outright repeal of the travel ban stalled amid opposition -- from the PAC.

"It's a three pronged celebration," said PAC director Mauricio Claver-Carone, noting that Lincoln Diaz-Balart would be thanked for his service and Rubio and Rivera welcomed to Congress. And three? "Having survived the 111th Congress."

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