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

Before reconciliation can take hold, write Melody Barnes and Caroline Janney, we must be clear about who we want to be as a nation and act on values that support the practice of democracy. We must also use our Constitution, laws and norms to defeat those who don’t support them. The lesson that must be learned from the Civil War and Reconstruction is that accountability, not denial, is essential to healing.
Melody Barnes and Caroline E. Janney The Washington Post
Long before the Trump presidency spiraled completely out of control, many Americans comforted themselves by asserting we were not in a civil war. As we sift through the debris left by the insurrectionists who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6 — and anticipate what is likely to come — we ignore at our peril the cautionary tale of the last Civil War and what followed it.
Melody Barnes The Washington Post
Melody Barnes, director of UVA's Democracy Initiative, is interviewed on CBC.
Melody Barnes CBC (Canada)
Although Melody Barnes was thrilled to host a podcast about President Lyndon B. Johnson – recently named among the “Best Podcasts of 2020” by the New Yorker – LBJ in many ways chose her, Barnes said. Producers at PRX, the podcast arm of Public Radio International, had just wrapped up a successful podcast on the war in Vietnam, “LBJ’s War,” and they were looking for someone to host their next podcast, “LBJ and the Great Society,” about Johnson’s extensive domestic policy program, which included landmark legislation like Medicare, Medicaid, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Melody Barnes UVA Today
Melody Barnes, who led the Domestic Policy Council under Mr. Obama, said Ms. Rice had the essential bureaucratic know-how required to run the body effectively and noted that she would be supported by a formidable staff of experts. “She’s an intellectual powerhouse,” Ms. Barnes said. “She has extensive government experience and knows how to manage a process, and work with departments and agencies, which is an essential part of the director’s job.”
Melody Barnes The New York Times
In April, I appeared on “Recode Media with Peter Kafka” to talk about podcasts’ response to the pandemic, and was gently mocked when, asked to name some favorite escapist podcasts, I enthused about “LBJ and the Great Society.” But, in a time of constantly unfolding political and public-health crises, the PRX series, hosted by Melody Barnes, was rather escapist, transporting us to a world in which an outsized American President and personality drew on his considerable dealmaking skills to bring about progressive structural change.
Melody Barnes The New Yorker