Anyone who can advise the president on domestic policy matters one day and play golf with him the next is pretty impressive. But impressing folks is nothing new for Melody Barnes, director of the White House Domestic Policy Council. Her appointment by President Obama in November 2008 follows years of building respect and credibility on Capitol Hill and beyond.

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Barnes, 45, is a native of Richmond, VA. She attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she graduated with honors. She went on to earn a law degree from the University of Michigan.

Barnes launched her career as an attorney in private practice in New York City. But she became well known in political circles as chief counsel to Senator Edward M. Kennedy on the Judiciary Committee. From 1995 to 2003, Barnes was a valued staffer, who earned trust and accolades from the late iconic leader.

Barnes has held other posts that have showcased her legal and legislative prowess—from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to the U.S. House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties. In the latter role, she worked with Congress to pass the Voting Rights Improvement Act of 1992.

In recent years, Barnes was executive vice president for policy at the Center for American Progress, a Democratic think tank. She left in June 2008 to serve as a domestic policy advisor on the Obama campaign, and later served on the advisory board for the presidential transition team.

Today, Barnes’ many experiences have culminated in her leading role in Obama’s domestic policy team. On the table are such issues as health care, education and immigration. In 2009, Ebony magazine reported Barnes intention to embrace urban America in the nation’s policy initiatives.

Like her former boss Ted Kennedy, Barnes is known as a progressive who’s not afraid to speak her mind; to wit, her somewhat controversial, favorable comments about gay marriage in November. Barnes has also been involved with EMILYs List and other causes that uplift women and young people.