Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Capitol Hill in Washington on Sept. 19, 2017. (Melina Mara/The Washington Post)
Opinion writer

The Post reports: “The Senate will cancel most of its annual August recess, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told senators Tuesday, an election year move that will force vulnerable Democrats to shuffle their campaign schedules. The Senate will now recess for one week in August instead of four, said McConnell (R-Ky.).” The move, however, is less clever than one might think.

To begin with, the biggest pickup opportunities for Democrats are in seats with no incumbents (Tennessee and Arizona) and in Nevada, where embattled incumbent Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) has turned sycophancy into an art. Heller said flat out that when it comes to “dreamers,” he’s President Trump’s rubber stamp. “I won’t vote for anything the president won’t sign. If the president is going to sign it, I’ll support it. Simple as that,” he said. (One wonders whether Nevadans want two senators who think for themselves, listen to constituents and live up to their oaths of office.) Alas, McConnell’s scheduling stunt winds up tying down Heller and doing nothing to impair Democrats’ pickup chances.

Moreover, with the House out of session and Republicans shorthanded without Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who is battling brain cancer, it is far from clear anything productive will be accomplished, especially since the president is so keen on stirring up enough votes to prevent cloture when he smells a bipartisan compromise likely to irritate his radical base, like what he did on a fix for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Watching Republicans not get anything done and stall on issues they think are too hot to handle doesn’t seem like a good way to help Republicans. Moreover, if the Senate remains in town, will Trump remain as well, stirring up trouble and lashing out whenever a cagey Democrat annoys him? He either goes on vacation (which makes him seem lazy and uninterested) or he stays and reminds voters why they need a congressional majority ready to stand up to him.

Moreover, adding several weeks to the legislative calendar gives Democrats plenty of time to needle Republicans on protection for the special counsel. They can also demand the Senate go on record regarding the constitutionality of self-pardons (maybe hearings featuring Republicans who have already bashed the idea would be advisable). Senate Democratic Whip Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) says he wants to talk about health care, a winning issue for Democrats.

Moreover, if the Senate is going to stay in session, there might as well be lots of hearings — on corruption at the Environmental Protection Agency, on the policy of child separation (and needed legislation to halt it) and, most important, on the estimated 4,645 deaths in Puerto Rico. Senators could also take a look at the damage done to America’s farmers by tariffs, a topic which should engage red-state Democratic senators such as Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Jon Tester of Montana.

The great thing about the Senate is that Democrats can spend hours upon hours addressing all sorts of topics from the floor, be it conflicts of interest in the administrative branch or the ongoing threat of Russian meddling in our election system.

In short, McConnell’s gambit may very well backfire. The Republicans’ biggest problem is not letting Democrats out to campaign but rather their own abysmal productivity since passing the tax bill, their spinelessness in the face of Trump’s attacks on our democracy and their refusal to block his administration’s extreme, inhumane policy initiatives. Democrats should be delighted to have three whole weeks to remind voters just how ineffective, extreme and unresponsive is the GOP majority.