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

“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
Director of UVA's new Democracy Initiative, Melody Barnes speaks with UVA Today about her time in the White House, UVA, and Monticello and Jefferson
Caroline Newman / UVA Today
Melody Barnes says citizens in the United States have important rights and responsibilities. The co-director for policy and public affairs at the Democracy Initiative at the University of Virginia says it requires we participate and be educated about our country.
Melody Barnes WMUK
We sat down with Barnes, College of Arts & Sciences Dean Ian Baucom and Miller Center Director and CEO William J. Antholis, who also held a staff position at the White House National Security Council and the National Economic Council, to learn more about the new initiative and how students and alumni can get involved.
Melody Barnes UVA Today
The University of Virginia has launched an interdisciplinary effort to examine changes and challenges affecting democracy around the world. The Democracy Initiative, led by the College and Graduate School of Arts & Sciences and the Miller Center of Public Affairs, will be supported by $12.9 million in gifts, as well as $10 million in matching funds from UVa’s strategic investment fund.
Melody Barnes The Daily Progress