Melody Barnes

Professor of Practice in Public Affairs 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, professor of practice in public affairs and codirector of the University of Virginia's Democracy Initiative, is a co-founder and principal of MB² Solutions LLC, a domestic strategy firm. Barnes serves as an independent director on the boards of Ventas, Inc.; Booz Allen Hamilton Holding Corporation; Public Policy Advisory Board; Uber; the Marguerite Casey Foundation; and Year Up. Barnes also chairs the Aspen Institute Forum for Community Solutions and Opportunity Youth Incentive Fund. From January 2009 until January 2012, she was assistant to the president and director of the White House Domestic Policy Council.  

As director of the Domestic Policy Council, Barnes provided strategic advice to President Obama and worked closely with members of the cabinet coordinating the domestic policy agenda across the administration. Under her leadership, innovative new policies, practices, and partnerships were initiated to address significant national challenges, including education, health care, and the federal government’s relationship with local governments and communities. 

Until July 2008, Barnes was the executive vice president for policy at the Center for American Progress, a progressive research institute and think tank. From December 1995 until March 2003, Barnes worked for Senator Edward M. Kennedy on the Senate Judiciary Committee; she served as his chief counsel from 1998 until she left the committee in 2003. Barnes’ experience also includes an appointment as director of legislative affairs for the U. S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and serving as a principal at the D.C.-based consulting firm The Raben Group. She began her career as an attorney with Shearman & Sterling in New York City.  

Barnes received her law degree from the University of Michigan in 1989. In 1986, she received her bachelor's degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where she graduated with honors in history. Barnes’s media appearances include This Week with George StephanopoulosThe Daily Show with Jon Stewart, Charlie Rose, Morning Joe and NewsHour.

Melody Barnes News Feed

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
The Miller Center hosted a discussion revolving around the 10-year anniversary of President Obama’s inauguration and Martin Luther King Jr. Day. A central conversation revolved around how things have or haven't changed for people of color in the United States.
Melody Barnes NBC 29
To get a preview of the panel discussion for The Score, I spoke to Melody Barnes at her Miller Center office in Charlottesville. Noting that January 20 will mark ten years since the inauguration of President Obama, she fielded my questions about the continuing conversation about race and race relations in the United States; whether Obama’s election demonstrated that we are in a “post-racial” era; and what “colorism” means within the African-American community, as highlighted on a recent episode of the ABC-TV sitcom, black-ish.
Melody Barnes The Score
America has become increasingly red or blue. But Melody Barnes sees a way forward.
Democracy Journal
“At a fraught moment in history when democracies, including our own, are enduring extraordinary stresses, the University of Virginia will help navigate the dangers and draw lessons from best practices around the world,” said William J. Antholis, Director and CEO of the Miller Center.

The second differentiating component behind the Democracy Initiative is that UVA is, to quote Co-Director Melody C. Barnes, “also studying the rest of the world and making connections between what is happening here and what is happening in democracies around the world.”
William Antholis and Melody Barnes Inside Philanthropy
To lead the Initiative, the University appointed Melody Barnes, former director of the Domestic Policy Council for former U.S. President Barack Obama;s administration, to be co-director of policy and public affairs of the Democracy Initiative.
Melody Barnes The Cavalier Daily