Pro-Israel resolution is new US House leader's first act

U.S. House of Representatives elect Mike Johnson Speaker of the House at the U.S. Capitol in Washington

By Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -Speaker Mike Johnson called up a resolution supporting Israel in his first action as leader of the U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday, after a three-week leadership vacuum that left the Republican-led chamber unable to respond to the Middle East crisis.

"The first bill I'm going to bring to this floor in a little while will be in support of our dear friend Israel and we are overdue in getting that done," Johnson said as he accepted the speakership.

The House backed the resolution by 412 to 10, with six members voting "present," reflecting traditional strong support in Congress for the Jewish state. The non-binding measure reaffirms U.S. commitment to Israel and calls on Hamas to immediately cease attacks and release every hostage.

Nine of the no votes were from Democrats, some of whom said they opposed the resolution since it did not address the loss of Palestinian lives, and one from a Republican. All six of the "present" votes came from Democrats.

The House had been without a speaker since Oct. 3, when eight Republicans joined Democrats to oust Kevin McCarthy, the first time a U.S. speaker has been removed from the position. Johnson, a social conservative with little leadership experience, was elected speaker on Wednesday.

The Johnson-led House must soon address a measure that would have the force of law. Democratic President Joe Biden asked Congress last week to pass a $106 billion funding package including billions of dollars in assistance for Ukraine, Taiwan and border security in addition to $14.3 billion for Israel.

Johnson's elevation muddied prospects for that broad funding request. Like many other Republicans closely allied to former President Donald Trump, the new speaker has been an opponent of Ukraine aid. A "report card" by the conservative "Republicans for Ukraine" campaign gave Johnson an "F Very Poor" rating based on his past votes against assistance for Kyiv in its fight against Russia.

Johnson said on Wednesday he backed aid for Ukraine "with conditions." He told reporters, "We're working through it. We want accountability and we want objectives that are clear from the White House. But we're going to have those discussions. It'll be very productive."

In the Middle East, war broke out on Oct. 7 with an attack on Israel by Palestinian Hamas militants who killed 1,400 people and took another 200 hostage, Israel has said. Israeli retaliatory strikes have killed over 6,500 people in Gaza, the health ministry in the Hamas-run strip said. Reuters was unable to verify those figures independently.

(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; additional reporting by David Morgan; editing by Deepa Babington and Cynthia Osterman)