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

In this conversation, Barnes reflects on this moment in our nation's history as the promise of systemic reform toward racial equity looms; the striking comparisons between 2020 and 1968, when Martin Luther King Jr. and others used the power of protest toward the power of the pen in bringing about transformational change; and the legacies of both Lyndon Johnson and Barack Obama.
Melody Barnes LBJ Library Podcast
The catastrophic effects of the coronavirus crisis are reversing progress for many young people.
Melody Barnes and John Bridgeland The Hill
“Rethinking Democracy” is a five-part series organized by the Trinity Long Room Hub Arts and Humanities Research Institute, in partnership with the Society of Fellows and Heyman Center for the Humanities at Columbia University in response to the COVID-19 crisis.
Melody Barnes Irish Central
“How do we create a rich classroom in a new regime where students are saying, ‘Is it worth it?’This isn’t the way it was when I went into a classroom every day. How can you make this worth it for me?'” Melody Barnes with the UVA Democracy Initiative said.
Melody Barnes NBC29
Each Sunday during this pandemic, the University of Virginia community has come together virtually to mark the close of another week with another episode of “Arts on the Hill.” University President Jim Ryan and aide Matt Weber launched the show last month to help connect far-flung Hoos and lift spirits during as the pandemic stretched on. The sixth episode, released Sunday night, opened with 2012 alumna Erin Lunsford, who started the show with a performance of “Neighbor’s Eye,” a song that she recorded in 2017. Then, Michael Idzior, UVA assistant band director, used his euphonium to play not one, but all four parts of Mozart’s “Marriage of Figaro.” Fourth-year Caitlin Catterton performed a song from the musical “Waitress,” a cappella group the Hullabahoos performed via Zoom, and UVA alumnus Ron Suskind shared a poem, shaking things up with uncanny imitations of several U.S. presidents. Bill Antholis, director and CEO of the Miller Center for Public Affairs, and Melody Barnes, co-director of the Democracy Initiative, read a poem, “Of History and Hope” by Miller Williams, that was read at President Bill Clinton’s second inauguration.
Melody Barnes UVA Today