House Republican leaders are pressing the Republican National Committee to give them at least $1 million to help wipe out their debt and save their six-vote majority.

The issue came up Wednesday at closed-door meetings attended by Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (Ill.), Majority Leader Richard K. Armey (Tex.) and RNC Chairman Jim Nicholson. At one point, Hastert exploded in frustration, shouting at Nicholson and pounding the table, according to an aide to Armey. The aide later backtracked and said she was unsure if the incident took place, but other congressional sources confirmed the harsh tenor of the sessions.

Hastert and Armey, the sources said, are pressing the RNC to help bail out the National Republican Congressional Committee, which began the year with a $3.6 million debt after breaking the bank in a failed effort to increase the House GOP majority. They want the most sought-after kind of political cash, "hard money" -- dollars that can be collected only in limited sums (up to $20,000 for political parties) but used to directly finance campaigns.

House GOP leaders are deeply concerned with the NRCC's financial condition, saying the debt must be wiped out before year's end if candidate recruitment for the 2000 contests is to be successful.

Of the major constituencies pressing for RNC dollars -- the presidential campaign, senators, House members, governors and state parties -- House leaders contend that their hold is most fragile and their claim for cash should carry the most weight. The RNC has already transferred $800,000 in hard money to the NRCC in return for an unspecified larger sum of "soft money," which can be given in unlimited amounts by corporations, labor unions or individuals.

Hatch Considers Joining Presidential Field

As crowded as it is, the race for the Republican presidential nomination may be about to get more heavily populated. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin G. Hatch of Utah, a conservative with a penchant for pairing with Democrats on health and other social legislation, is leaning toward running and will decide within the next week or two whether to join 11 other Republicans in the race.

Hatch has toyed with the idea before, most recently in 1996, but has never gotten this far in his plans. "He's considering it because people have urged him to do so, more this year than before," said Paul Smith, Hatch's press secretary, responding to reports yesterday in the Salt Lake Tribune and Roll Call.

Hatch, 65, a senator since 1977, is seeking reelection next year. The Utah legislature recently changed state law so a person can run for the Senate and the White House at the same time.

Several Republicans said Hatch is probably not trying to challenge front-runner George W. Bush but to position himself in case the Texas governor stumbles. If he forms an exploratory committee, Hatch would start far behind in fund-raising and organization. But he been raising money for his Senate campaign and has a strong network of supporters.

One strategist suggested that Hatch may be tiring of the Senate and could be open to a nomination for vice president, a Cabinet post or chief justice.

Staff writer Helen Dewar contributed to this report.