As key priorities gather dust, McConnell makes time for anti-abortion bills

Mitch McConnell knows anti-abortion measures can't pass. He also knows hundreds of House-backed bills are gathering dust. He doesn't appear to care.
Senate Democrats And Republicans Hold Weekly Policy Luncheons
WASHINGTON, DC - AUGUST 04: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) talks with reporters reporters after the weekly Senate Republican policy luncheon at the U.S. Capitol August 4, 2015 in Washington, DC. McConnell and his leadership team said they will work to pass a cybersecurity bill before the end of the week when the Senate will break for four weeks.Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

About a year ago, as Donald Trump's government shutdown reached the four-week mark, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) ignored measures passed by the House to end the fiasco. The Republican leader saw no reason to even consider the bills that would re-open federal departments and agencies, since the president wouldn't sign them.

McConnell told reporters at the time that the chamber wouldn't waste time on "show votes" he considered "pointless."

The GOP senator was, however, willing to bring a couple of anti-abortion measures to the floor, despite the fact that they didn't have the support needed to pass, and despite the fact that they faced obvious opposition in the Democratic-led House.

Today, as the New York Times reported, McConnell will do it all again.

Senator Mitch McConnell is about to plunge the Senate into the nation's culture wars with votes on bills to sharply restrict access to late-term abortions and threaten some doctors who perform them with criminal penalties, signaling that Republicans plan to make curbing a woman's right to terminate a pregnancy a central theme of their re-election campaigns this year.

His record of denouncing pointless show votes notwithstanding, McConnell knows -- in fact, everyone involved in the process knows -- that these anti-abortion bills will need 60 votes each to advance, and those votes are plainly not there. Even if the support in the Senate were to somehow materialize, the House Democratic majority wouldn't consider the proposals.

So why bother? Because as the Times' report added, McConnell -- who's up for re-election this year -- "hopes to energize" parts of his party's far-right base ahead of this year's elections. The Senate Republican leader also, naturally, wants to "force vulnerable Democrats to take uncomfortable votes."

I'm not altogether sure the political calculus works, since the votes will also put pressure on Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) -- a pro-choice Republican facing a tough fight this year -- though it's a risk McConnell is apparently willing to take.

Complicating matters is the larger context: McConnell's Senate is content to do effectively zero legislative work. Last summer, Politico ran a piece describing the upper chamber as a legislative "graveyard," adding, "The Senate standstill is frustrating even some in the GOP."

Periodically, Senate Democratic leaders publish reports on the hundreds of bills passed by the House, which are gathering dust in the Republican-led Senate. Many involve key national priorities that, if considered, could generate bipartisan support.

McConnell, however, seems far more interested in pandering to his party's base.