The coronavirus pandemic has prompted the House to allow lawmakers to vote by proxy, without physical presence at the Capitol. The significant, yet temporary, change to operations was not enacted during any other national crisis in history. The House voted 217-189 Friday to approve a package of historic changes to the chamber rules to allow Congress to continue much of its business through the pandemic that has made gathering together and travel threats to public health. “Convening Congress must not turn into a super-spreader event,” said House Rules Chairman Jim McGovern. Under the new rules, lawmakers will be able to join millions of Americans in working from home if they are unable to travel to Capitol Hill to participate in House business. Debate over the changes has been fiery, as Republicans want to follow the lead of the president and GOP-led Senate and resume regular business. Democrats say that short term reliance on technology will provide a safe way to work as the pandemic drags on. But Republicans objected to what they called a power grab by the Democratic majority during the crisis. Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma, the top Republican on the Rules panel, warned the changes will fundamentally alter the nature of the institution, “and not for the better.”

The resolution authorizes House committees to hold virtual hearings, markups and depositions using software platforms certified by the chief administrative officer, the office in charge of cybersecurity and technology in the House.