Melody Barnes

Professor of Practice, Dorothy Danforth Compton Professor, and Co-Director of the Democracy Initiative

Fast Facts

  • Director of White House Domestic Policy Council under President Barack Obama
  • Former executive vice president of the Center for American Progress
  • Chief counsel to Sen. Edward M. Kennedy

Areas Of Expertise

  • Domestic Affairs
  • Health
  • Law and Justice
  • Social Issues
  • Economic Issues
  • Leadership
  • Politics
  • The Presidency

Melody Barnes is co-director for policy and public affairs for the Democracy Initiative, an interdisciplinary teaching, research, and engagement effort led by the College and Graduate School of Arts & Sciences at the University of Virginia. She is the Dorothy Danforth Compton Professor and a professor of practice at the Miller Center and is also a distinguished fellow at the UVA School of Law. A co-founder of the domestic strategy firm MB2 Solutions LLC, Barnes has spent more than 25 years crafting public policy on a wide range of domestic issues. 

During the administration of President Barack Obama, Barnes was assistant to the president and director of the White House Domestic Policy Council. She was also executive vice president for policy at the Center for American Progress and chief counsel to the late Senator Edward M. Kennedy on the Senate Judiciary Committee. Her experience includes an appointment as director of legislative affairs for the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and assistant counsel to the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Civil and Constitutional Rights. Barnes began her career as an attorney with Shearman & Sterling in New York City. 

Barnes earned her BA from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she graduated with honors in history, and her JD from the University of Michigan. She serves on the boards of directors of several corporate, non-profit, and philanthropic organizations.


Melody Barnes News Feed

President Lyndon B. Johnson is today remembered largely for his failure in Vietnam. But before the war sunk his presidency, LBJ compiled a record of accomplishment on the domestic front unmatched since FDR. Medicare, civil and voting rights, clean air and water, Head Start, immigration reform, public broadcasting — fifty years later, these programs are so deeply woven into the fabric of American life that it is difficult to imagine the country without them.
Melody Barnes PRI
Lyndon Johnson's Great Society offers a compelling case study of what the federal government can achieve and how grassroots activists can help move Washington toward a better place if animated by a clear purpose.
The University of Virginia’s Democracy Initiative was launched in 2018 to “study and advance the prospects of democracy around the world.” WUVA met with the Initiative’s co-director for policy and public affairs, Melody Barnes, to learn more about what has been accomplished in the project’s first year and what comes next for the Democracy Initiative.
Melody Barnes WUVA News
Charlottesville is gearing up for the Presidential Ideas Festival – a gathering that will feature one former president and top officials from many administrations -- talking about how the chief executive makes decisions, how the office has changed and where it may be headed.
Melody Barnes WVTF Radio IQ
Melody Barnes, co-director of the Democracy Initiative, said the lab selection committee reviewed a number of outstanding proposals from interdisciplinary teams featuring faculty from numerous UVA schools and academic departments before selecting Sechser and Vaidhyanathan’s projects. “Ultimately, we selected two new labs well-aligned with the Democracy Initiative’s mission – rigorous scholarship and research, enhanced opportunities for students to explore the practice of democracy in and beyond the classroom, and a commitment to engage policymakers, practitioners and the public,” Barnes said.
Melody Barnes UVA Today
As part of the University’s 2019 Community MLK Celebration, the University’s Miller Center of Public Affairs hosted a panel Tuesday afternoon in Newcomb Theater entitled “Race in the Decade since Obama,” which focused on how race relations in United States have changed in the ten years since Obama took office. Melody Barnes—an assistant to the president and director of the White House Domestic Policy Council during the Obama administration—moderated the event. The New York Times’ Lauretta Charlton and Kevin Gaines, Julian Bond prof. of Civil Rights and Social Justice, served as panelists.
Melody Barnes Cavalier Daily