Melody Barnes

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Melody Barnes
Melody Barnes official portrait.jpg
Director of the Domestic Policy Council
In office
January 20, 2009 – January 10, 2012
PresidentBarack Obama
DeputyHeather Higginbottom
Mark Zuckerman
Preceded byKarl Zinsmeister
Succeeded byCecilia Muñoz
Personal details
Melody C. Barnes

(1964-04-29) April 29, 1964 (age 57)
Political partyDemocratic
Spouse(s)Marland Buckner
EducationUniversity of North Carolina, Chapel Hill (BA)
University of Michigan, Ann Arbor (JD)

Melody C. Barnes (born April 29, 1964) is an American lawyer and political advisor. Formerly an aide and chief counsel to Senator Edward M. Kennedy on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Barnes later worked at the Center for American Progress, a think tank, before joining Senator Barack Obama's 2008 presidential campaign. After Obama took office as president, Barnes was appointed director of the Domestic Policy Council, serving in that post from January 2009 to January 2012. After leaving the White House, Barnes assumed roles at the Aspen Institute and New York University. Since 2016, she has been at the University of Virginia, where she teaches law and is the Co-Director of the UVA Democracy Initiative.

Early life and education[edit]

Barnes was born on April 29, 1964, and grew up in Richmond, Virginia.[1] Barnes' father Charles H. Barnes Jr. was a civilian employee of the U.S. Army, and her mother Mary Frances Rogers Barnes (1934-2014) was a teacher.[1][2]

Barnes earned her B.A. with honors in history from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1986 and her J.D. from the University of Michigan Law School in 1989.[3][4] Barnes is a member of the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority.[5]


Pre-White House[edit]

In 1989, Barnes began her career as an attorney with the law firm of Shearman & Sterling in New York City as an associate in corporate finance and financial institutions.[3][4]

Barnes then worked at the Raben Group, where she lobbied for the American Civil Liberties Union, Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, American Constitution Society, and Center for Reproductive Rights.[1] Barnes served as director of legislative affairs at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and as assistant counsel of the Subcommittee on Civil and Constitutional Rights of the House Judiciary Committee.[1][6] In the latter role, Barnes worked on the Voting Rights Improvement Act of 1992.[1][6]

Barnes was general counsel to Senator Edward M. Kennedy on the Senate Judiciary Committee from 1995 to 1998, and chief counsel from 1998 to 2003.[1][7]

From 2003 to July 2008, Barnes was at the Center for American Progress, a think tank. She was executive vice president for policy at the center from 2005 to 2008.[3] Barnes was involved in the launch of the center's Initiative on Faith and Public Policy.[8] She worked under CEO John D. Podesta, who later served as co-chairman of the Obama-Biden Transition Project.[1]

Barnes was senior domestic policy advisor to Senator Barack Obama during his 2008 presidential campaign.[3] After the election, Barnes served on the Obama-Biden Transition Project leadership team.[3] Barnes served as co-director of the Agency Review Working Group for the transition.[8]

Prior to joining the White House, Barnes served on the board of a Washington, D.C. charter school, as well as the boards of EMILY's List and the Planned Parenthood Action Fund.[1]

White House[edit]

After Obama took office in January 2009, Barnes became Assistant to the President and director of the White House Domestic Policy Council.[3]

In October 2009, Barnes played golf with Obama at Fort Belvoir, becoming the first woman to play golf with the president during Obama's presidency. (Obama had previously been criticized for previously playing golf and basketball only with male staffers).[9][10]

Barnes was one of several African-American women in important Obama administration positions, along with Valerie Jarrett, Mona Sutphen, Susan Rice and Cassandra Butts.[11]

As a former staffer for Ted Kennedy, Barnes was also one of a number of former congressional staffers in the Obama White House, alongside Jim Messina (formerly aide to Senator Max Baucus), Pete Rouse and Jeanne Lambrew (Senator Tom Daschle), Phil Schiliro (formerly aide to Representative Henry Waxman), and Lisa Konwinski (former aide to Senator Kent Conrad). Paul Starr writes that Obama's choice to surround himself with these former senior aides to key congressional leaders on health care was instrumental in passing the health-care reform legislation through Congress.[12]

Barnes chaired the White House Task Force on Childhood Obesity, which in May 2010 released a 124-page report with 70 recommendations to combat the childhood obesity epidemic in the United States.[13]

In November 2011, the White House announced that Barnes would be leaving.[14] She departed in January 2012.[3]

Post-White House[edit]

After leaving the White House, Barnes became chief executive officer of Melody Barnes Solutions LLC, a strategy firm advising major financial institutions and other clients. She joined the boards of directors of Ventas, Inc. in 2014,[4] and Booz Allen Hamilton in 2015.[7]

Barnes is chair of the Aspen Institute's Forum for Community Solutions.[3][15]

In 2013,[4] Barnes has also been vice provost for global student leadership initiatives at New York University, and senior fellow at NYU's Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service.[3]

Barnes is now co-director of University of Virginia’s Democracy Initiative, a broad research, teaching and public affairs initiative tackling the most pressing issues facing democracies around the world. She is a professor of practice at UVA’s Miller Center, after having served since 2016 as a visiting professor and senior fellow there and a distinguished fellow at the School of Law.[16]

Awards and honors[edit]

In 2016, Barnes received the "Strong Men & Women in Virginia History" award from the Library of Virginia and Dominion Power.[17]

Personal life[edit]

On June 13, 2009, Barnes married Marland Buckner Jr., a former chief of staff to U.S. Representative Harold Ford, Jr., in Washington.[18][19]

In 2007, Barnes was featured in a Washingtonian magazine list of ten well-dressed Washington women.[1][20]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i Robert Pear, Melody C. Barnes, New York Times (November 25, 2008).
  2. ^ Mary Frances Rogers Barnes, 80, educator, Richmond Free Press (December 2, 2014).
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i Melody C. Barnes, Vice Provost for Global Student Leadership Initiatives, New York University.
  4. ^ a b c d Ventas Elects Former White House Domestic Policy Director Melody Barnes to Board of Directors (press release) (September 17, 2014).
  5. ^ The Receiving Lineup: Melody Barnes and Marland Buckner, Washington Post (April 3, 2016).
  6. ^ a b Melody Barnes: Former Domestic Policy Advisor, White House.
  7. ^ a b Melody C. Barnes, Director, Booz Allen Hamilton.
  8. ^ a b Michael A. Fletcher, Domestic Adviser May Play Greater Role Under Obama, Washington Post (November 25, 2008).
  9. ^ Michael D. Shear, A first for Obama: Woman joins presidential golf outing, Washington Post (October 26, 2009).
  10. ^ Mark Leibovich, A First for President Obama: Female Aide Joins Round of Golf, New York Times (October 25, 2009).
  11. ^ Trymaine Lee, Melody Barnes, Former Obama Adviser, Talks Life After The White House, Huffington Post (February 24, 2012).
  12. ^ Paul Starr, Remedy and Reaction: The Peculiar American Struggle over Health Care Reform (Yale University Press, 2010), p. 200.
  13. ^ Robin Givhan, White House task force issues report on fighting childhood obesity, Washington Post (May 12, 2010).
  14. ^ Mike Allen, Melody Barnes leaving White House, Politico (November 24, 2011).
  15. ^ Salass, Nader (July 2, 2013). "WATCH: Former Obama Cabinet Member Shares Youth Job Tips". Huffington Post.
  16. ^ "Melody Barnes on the White House, UVA, Monticello and Jefferson". UVA Today. 2018-09-24. Retrieved 2018-11-13.
  17. ^ Melody C. Barnes (1964–), Richmond, Attorney and Government Official, 2016 Strong Men & Women in Virginia History, Library of Virginia.
  18. ^ Rachel L. Swarns, Vows: Melody Barnes and Marland Buckner Jr., New York Times (June 20, 2009).
  19. ^ Ellen McCarthy, OnLove: After Years of Friendship, Melody Barnes and Marland Buckner Said 'I Do', Washington Post (June 21, 2009).
  20. ^ Leslie Milk, Ten Well Dressed Women: Melody Barnes, Washingtonian (October 1, 2007).

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
Karl Zinsmeister
Director of the Domestic Policy Council
Succeeded by
Cecilia Muñoz