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Axios illustration via Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (left), March On PAC (right)

Dr. Anthony Fauci is starring in Democratic digital advertising, a sign of his political potency that also takes advantage of an apolitical government employee.

Why it matters: Democrats accused Donald Trump of playing politics by sidelining Fauci at his COVID briefings and hogging the spotlight. Now they concede President Biden's chief medical adviser is a powerful driver for their own political engagement.

"It is one of our strongest raising names right now," a Democratic operative told Axios.

  • The operative said Fauci, who attained folk-her0 status amid the coronavirus pandemic, remains an extremely effective motivator for the party's grassroots.

What's happening: The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is just the latest political group to plug Fauci.

  • A new ad, first flagged by Just the News, features a photo of the smiling NIAID chief and asks for signatures on a "card" thanking him. That triggers a process eventually seeking a political contribution, as well as contact information for organizing purposes.
  • The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee sent an email this week asking supporters to "grade Dr. Fauci's job performance" — and similarly share their contact information.
  • The Democratic Governors Association asked supporters to, "Sign the thank-you card for Dr. Fauci for his steady leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic!" in an email last week.
  • The Democrat-aligned March On PAC asked its email subscribers last week to participate in a "poll" about who should receive the Nobel Peace Prize, Fauci or Trump.

What they're saying: Some conservatives have raised the possibility that such ads are ethically problematic, but ethics experts say no lines appear to have been crossed.

  • "Without more facts, (the DCCC's) ad does not appear to have any Hatch Act implications," said Kedric Payne, the senior director for ethics at the Campaign Legal Center.
  • The federal law limits the types of partisan activity federal employees can engage in, especially while on duty, and bars the use of government resources for political activity.
  • There's no indication Fauci was aware of the recent political appeals, let alone that he approved of or was involved in crafting them.
  • "Dr. Fauci does not endorse any political party or organization and has not given permission for his name to be used in any political fundraising campaign," an NIAID spokesperson told Axios.

Between the lines: Though not ethically or legally problematic, the use of Fauci's name and likeness comes after months of Democratic complaints that the previous administration politicized the government's COVID response.

  • The operative defended the practice on the merits.
  • "The Democratic base is interested in truth and science and facts," he said, "which is a hard contrast with Republicans, who are raising off of Donald Trump right now."

Editor's note: This story has been updated to include comment from NIAID.

Go deeper

Updated 37 mins ago - Health

California surpasses 50,000 COVID-19 deaths

A man prepares a funeral arrangement in in Los Angeles, California, Feb. 12. Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images

California's death toll from COVID-19 surpassed 50,000 on Wednesday, per Johns Hopkins data.

The big picture: It's the first state to record more than 50,000 deaths from the coronavirus.

2 hours ago - Technology

Facebook bans Myanmar military

A protester holds a placard with a three-finger salute in front of a military tank parked aside the street in front of the Central Bank building during a demonstration in Yangon, Myanmar. Photo by Aung Kyaw Htet/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Facebook said on Wednesday it would ban the rest of the Myanmar military from its platform.

The big picture: It comes some three weeks after the military overthrew the civilian government in a coup and detained leader Aung San Suu Kyi, causing massive protests to erupt throughout the country. Military leaders have been using internet blackouts to try to maintain power in light of the coup.

It's harder to fill the Cabinet

Data: Chamberlain, 2020, "United States of America Cabinet Appointments Dataset" Chart: Will Chase/Axios

It's harder now for presidents to win Senate confirmation for their Cabinet picks, an Axios data analysis of votes for and against nominees found.

Why it matters: It's not just Neera Tanden. The trend is a product of growing polarization, rougher political discourse and slimming Senate majorities, experts say. It means some of the nation's most vital federal agencies go without a leader and the legislative authority that comes with one.